Read CHAPTER III - THE YEARS OF PEACE of Kosciuszko A Biography , free online book, by Monica Mary Gardner, on

When Kosciuszko returned to his native land, that great wave of a nation’s magnificent effort to save herself by internal reform, which culminated in the Constitution of the 3rd of May, was sweeping over Poland. Equality of civic rights, freedom of the peasant, a liberal form of government, political and social reforms of all descriptions, were the questions of the hour. The first Commission of Education to be established in Europe, the precursor of our modern Ministry of Education, that had been opened two years before Kosciuszko left Poland, and on which sat Ignacy Potocki and Hugo Kollontaj, both afterwards to be closely associated with Kosciuszko in his war for national independence, was, founding schools, refounding universities, and raising the level of education all through the country. Roads were built, factories started, agriculture and trade given fresh impetus. A literary and artistic revival set in, warmly encouraged by Stanislas Augustus, who gathered painters, musicians, and poets around him in his brilliant court. All this was done by a dismembered nation upon whose further and complete destruction the three powers that had already partitioned her were resolved.

Coincident with these last days of Poland’s political existence that hold the tragic glory of a setting sun is the one tranquil span of Kosciuszko’s life. His sister’s husband had managed his affairs so generously and so well that his old home had been saved for him. Here Kosciuszko for four years led the retired life which was most to his taste, that of a country farmer and landowner in a small way, his peace only disturbed by the financial worries handed on to him by his brother.

Soldierly simplicity was the note of Kosciuszko’s rustic country home. The living-room was set out with a plain old table, a few wooden seats and an ancient store cupboard. The furniture of the small sleeping apartment consisted of a bed and by its side a table on which lay Kosciuszko’s papers and books, conspicuous among the latter being the political writings of the great contemporary Polish reformers Staszyc and Kollontaj which to the Pole of Kosciuszko’s temperament were bound to be fraught with burning interest. His coffee was served in a cup made by his own hand; the simple dishes and plates that composed his household stock were also his work, for the arts and crafts were always his favourite hobbies. An old cousin looked after the housekeeping. A coachman and manservant were the only other members of the family. There was a garden well stocked with fruit-trees that was the delight of Kosciuszko’s heart. On a hillock covered with hazels he laid out walks, put up arbours and arranged a maze that wound so craftily among the thicket that the visitor who entered it found no easy exit. The maze may still be seen, together with the avenue of trees that was planted by Kosciuszko himself. His interest in his domain was unfailing. When far away from home, in the midst of his military preoccupations, while commanding in the Polish army, he wrote minute directions to his sister on the importation of fresh trees, the sowing of different grains on the farm.

Although Kosciuszko was an ardent farmer, his farm brought him no great returns; and this by reason of the sacrifices that he made to his principles. As a Polish landowner he had many peasants working on his property. By the legislation of that day, common to several countries besides Poland, these peasants were to a great extent under his power, and were compelled to the corvee. Such a condition of things was intolerable to Kosciuszko. The sufferings of his fellow-men, equal rights for all, were matters that ever touched him most nearly. Many others of his countrymen were earnestly setting their faces against this abuse of serfdom and, even before the measure was passed by law, as far as possible liberating the serfs on their estates. That at this time Kosciuszko entirely freed some of his peasants appears certain. It was not then practicable to give full freedom to the remainder; but he reduced the forced labour of all the men on his property by one-half, and that of the women he abolished altogether. His personal loss was considerable. He was not a rich man. His stipend from America, for one cause or another, never reached him, and thanks to his brother his private means were in so involved a condition that he had to summon his sister to his help and contract various loans and debts.

This favourite sister, Anna Estkowa, lived not far, as distances go in Poland, from Kosciuszko’s home. She and her husband and son were often guests in Kosciuszko’s house, and he in hers. She frequently had to come to his rescue in housekeeping emergencies, and the correspondence between them at times takes a very playful note. “Little sister,” or “My own dear little sister,” alternates with the title used by the brother in jest: “Your right honourable ladyship.” Or again he calls her by epithets remarkable to the English ear, but which in Lithuania are terms of close intimacy, and correspond to the rough and endearing language of a fondly attached brother and sister in our own country. He sends her a packet of China tea or a wagon filled with barley that was forced to turn back on account of the bad state of the roads; while she is requested to buy him “about four bottles of English beer: I will pay you back when I see you.” Sometimes she is treated to a friendly scolding when she fails to fulfil Kosciuszko’s commissions to his liking.

“I particularly beg you to try and get [some furniture he required] from that joiner and send it to me on the first of May, or even sooner. ... Come and stay with me in May. I will give you something to busy yourself with, and to keep you in health. You must send some money to Stanislas [her son, who was staying with Kosciuszko], and enjoin upon him to manage with it, but it would be better if he always had some in store. You are a cow: and why did you not buy more almonds in their shells, or at least four spoons?"

“My Saint Anna” thus he addresses her on another occasion: “I have sent my carts for the chairs and sofas. ... I present my humble respects to the Stolnik [his brother-in-law], and I beg him to let himself be persuaded to come and stay for a time with me, if only to smoke one pipe over my hearth. I beg you both to buy me two fine cows. Good-bye, lapwings."

“Little sister of mine,” he writes most tenderly after her husband’s death: “come to me, I beg you. Take a carriage to Brzesc. I shall be there on Sunday for my cure, as Mueller ordered me to go there. Otherwise I would go to you. You must let yourself be ruled by reason. You are in bad health, I am in bad health: do you wish to drive me into the grave by your extravagant conduct? You must watch over your health for the sake of your children, for my sake."

Kosciuszko loved his retirement, and was happiest in his own cherished garden; but he by no means led the life of a hermit, and was fond of visiting the country houses of his friends in the sociable open-hearted manner of his race. His frank kindliness and courtesy made him a welcome guest; and the favourite amusement of the soldier who had gained fame in the New World was to play “blind man’s buff” and other youthful games with the young people of the house.

One of the manors that he frequented was that of Michal Zaleski, a legal and political functionary of some importance in Lithuania. With him and his wife Kosciuszko contracted a lasting friendship.

“I will begin” so runs a letter of his to Mme. Zaleska “first of all by reproaching your ladyship for not having added even one word to the letter” presumably her husband’s. “A fine way of remembering your neighbour! So I have only got to hurry home to be forgotten by my friends! I will forbid any more of my water to be given to you, and will entirely prohibit my well; so you will have to drink from your own, made badly by your husband. I lay my curse on your ladyship and will show you no mercy; and if I should be in the church on Good Friday you would most certainly be denied absolution for your great and heinous sins. However, I kiss your hands, and be both of you convinced of the enduring respect and esteem with which I desire to be your humblest servant."

Oh, would that I could obtain such a wife! he writes to the husband. She is an example for thousands how to find happiness at home with husband and children. What month were you born in? If my birthday were in the same month, then I too might venture to marry."

Although Kosciuszko lived far from the turmoil of publicity and out of the reach of events, his thoughts, as we know from his letters and from rough notes that exist in his handwriting, were much taken up with the crisis through which his country was passing. He pondered much upon the means of her preservation. His correspondence with Michal Zaleski insists upon the necessity for Poland of national self-consciousness and confidence in her own destiny. Education for the masses, a citizen army of burghers and peasants, were two of the reforms for which Kosciuszko most earnestly longed, and in which, in advance of his epoch, he saw a remedy for crying evils. It was a moment when the attention of thoughtful men was riveted on great national problems, for the famous Diet was now sitting that from 1788 to 1791 was engaged in the task of framing for Poland the enlightened Constitution that, were it not for the armies of Prussia and Russia, would have saved her. One of its early enactments was the remodelling of the Polish army. Kosciuszko’s standing was now for the first time to be publicly recognized by the Government of his country, and his talent impressed into her service. His old love, the Princess Lubomirska, here reappears in his history, writing a letter to the King, with the request that Kosciuszko should be given a military command. If to the modern reader it comes with something of a shock, as Korzon remarks, that a woman considered her intervention needed to push the claims of a soldier who had so greatly distinguished himself, we must remember that Kosciuszko was then scarcely known in Poland. His service had been foreign; he belonged to a quiet country family that had nothing to do with affairs of state. Apart from the Princess’s propaganda, of which we hear nothing further, Kosciuszko’s name was sent up for recommendation to the Grand Diet, and the Lithuanian magnate who proposed it spoke before the Diet of Kosciuszko as a man “who possesses high personal qualities, and, as he learnt to shed his blood for a foreign country, will assuredly not grudge it to his own.” Kosciuszko was present; and as he heard these words he politely rose and bowed. Kosciuszko was no frequenter of courts or lover of palaces; but his interests obliged him to present himself to the King, who remembered him as the promising youth to whom his favour had been given when a cadet. The upshot of all this was that he received the commission of major-general in the Polish army on the 1st of October, 1789.

His first command was in the country districts of Great Poland, close to the frontiers of that part of Poland which since the first partition had been under Prussian dominion. It was a keen disappointment to Kosciuszko that his appointment was in the army of Poland proper, the so-called Crown army, instead of in that of his native Lithuania. That wild and romantic land of marsh and forest which the poetry of her great singer, Adam Mickiewicz, has made live for ever in Polish literature, casts a spell as it were of enchantment over her born sons; and Kosciuszko felt himself a stranger among the less simple and more sophisticated men with whom he was now thrown.

While busy training soldiers his thoughts turned often to his little estate which he had placed in the charge of his sister.

“See that the Dutch cheeses are made,” he writes to her. “Please put in the grafts given me by Laskowski, and in those places where the former ones have not taken. To-morrow sow barley, oats. Plant small birches in the walk immediately behind the building."

Why on earth dont you write to me? he says, reading her a fraternal lecture. Are you ill? Your health is bad. Take care of yourself; do not do anything that might trouble you. Say the same as I do, that there are people worse off than I, who would like to be in my place. Providence will cheer us, and can give us opportunities and happiness beyond our expectations. I always commend myself to the Most High and submit myself to His will. Do you do this, in this way calm yourself, and so be happy. Here is a moral for you, which take to the letter. For Heavens sake get me some trees somehow. Let the buds have sap, not like they are at the Princesss. Goodbye. Love me as I do you with all our souls."

In the course of his duties Kosciuszko had constantly to make journeys to Warsaw on business. When there he entered into close relations with those noblest of Poland’s patriots and reformers, Ignacy Potocki and Hugo Kollontaj, both holding office under the Crown and employed in drawing up the reforms that the Great Diet was passing. Here too Kosciuszko often saw his already friend, Niemcewicz, who was bringing out patriotic plays and taking an active part among the enlightened political party. The high esteem in which Kosciuszko was held, not merely by those who loved him personally but by men who only knew of him by repute, may be illustrated by a letter addressed to him, not then, but later, by Kollontaj, in which the latter tells Kosciuszko that words are not needed to express how much he prizes the friendship of one “whom I loved, honoured and admired before fate granted me to know you in person."

In 1790 Prussia concluded a defensive and offensive alliance with Poland, which, as the sequel shows, she was prepared to break at the psychological moment, in order to secure Polish help in the probable Prussian war against an Austrian-Russian coalition. Poland began to make ready for the field. Kosciuszko was sent southwards, to Lublin, where he remained for the summer months. His employment was to train the recruits for approaching active service. Against the difficulties always to beset him throughout his career of lack of ammunition and want of funds, he devoted himself to his task with the energy and foresight that were customary with him. He was ordered in September to move to Podolia, on the frontiers of which the Russians were massing. He stayed in that district for many months until the July of 1791.

There the commandant of Kamieniec was no other than his old comrade and friend, Orlowski.

“Truly beloved friend,” wrote Orlowski to Kosciuszko during the winter of 1790, chaffing him on the untiring activity that he displayed at his post: I hear from everybody that you dont sit still in any place for a couple of hours, and that you only roam about like a Tartar, not settling anywhere. However, I approve of that. It is evident that you mean to maintain your regiment in the discipline and regularity of military service. I foresee yet another cause for your roaming about the world, which you divulged in my presence. You write to me for a little wife, if I can find one here for you."

For, as is clear from various expressions in Kosciuszko’s letters, the soldier, who was no longer young, was yearning for domestic happiness. And now, in the turmoil of warlike preparations, he fell in love with a girl of eighteen, Tekla Zurowska, the daughter of a noble, and heiress to his estates. The courtship between the general bordering on middle age he was then forty-five and this child in her teens has given us Kosciuszko’s love-letters that are among the most charming productions of his pen, for their tenderness and their half-playful chivalry, characteristic not only of Poland’s national hero, but in themselves typically Polish. The couple met for the first time at a ball in a country manor-house. We can visualize the picturesque spectacle of the ballroom, brilliant with the gorgeous national costumes of the guests, both men and ladies; the rugged and simple soldier in his Polish uniform, courteously handing to the many figured Mazur or the stately Polonaise the slim girlish form sporting her tight sleeveless little coat with military facings and rich fur edgings and sleeve-like streamers drooping from the shoulders, with her hair dressed in two long plaits sweeping to her skirts. The girl’s family was staying in the town that was Kosciuszko’s head-quarters, and so near Kosciuszko’s rooms that the lovers could watch each other from their windows. Seeing one of Kosciuszko’s officers leave his general’s house in haste, Tekla, with the assurance, to use no harsher term, of her years, wrote a rebuke to her lover for getting rid of his subordinates with greater speed than was seemly. Kosciuszko replied by informing her what the business had been between himself and the soldier in question: but I greeted him beautifully and politely, and if he went away quickly it was certainly because he saw a great many unfinished papers before me."

There was another Tekla on the scenes, Tekla Orlewska, a cousin of the first Tekla, whose friendship and sympathy were freely given, both to Kosciuszko and the girl he loved. “To the two Teklas” Kosciuszko pens this letter.

“For the notebook sent me “ this to Tekla Zurowska “I thank thee very much, although it is somewhat undurable, not suitable for use. ’Twas a pity for little hands to labour at such a passing thing: a pity to wear eyes out over so small a form of writing which it must overstrain the eyes to read: it would have been better instead to have written more. I know not to whom I must write, whether to the first little Tekla or to the second; but what I do know is that I love the first and am the greatest friend to the second. Both reproach me for somewhat of which I do not find myself guilty. To the first I had no opportunity of writing, and now I am sending my answer by Kniaziewicz” the future famous soldier of the Napoleonic legions: “but should he not come I have no one by whom to write, for I do not know which of my friends visits you. The second ought to reproach herself because she forgot so good a friend, and because with so many opportunities she told me nothing about either the first friend or about herself. They tell me that Orlewska has looked with favour upon a certain person, and that he has wounded her heart with love. Little Tekla, when thou writest send me at the same time one of the coral beads from thy neck. May Providence enfold thee in the cloak of perfect happiness, and be thou always convinced of my steadfastness, friendship, esteem, respect."

But although Tekla’s mother warmly encouraged Kosciuszko’s cause, her father looked askance at his daughter’s suitor: either on account of the disparity of age between them, or, which seems more probable, for the reason that Kosciuszko possessed neither large estates nor a great family name. On one occasion Kosciuszko, not finding himself pressed to make a longer stay under the Zurowski roof, took an early departure, telling Tekla that:

It is always a bad thing for the uninvited to stay on. Through my natural delicacy I understood that I was one too many. I had to go, albeit with sorrow. I will now ask you where you are going to-morrow. If I could find a good excuse I would go there too. ... May Heaven bless the mother and daughter, and may it also send down upon the father, even though he is unfriendly to me, bountiful riches of health. ... I kiss your little feet, and when you are dining with an Englishman and Frenchman forget not the Pole who wishes you well."

“Captains P. and P. told me,” he says later, “that I was the cause of your shedding tears. That such precious drops from lovely springs should be shed through suspicion of me causes the greatest anguish to my heart. Therefore I kneel and kiss your little hands until I win your pardon. But think not that I ever had any idea of casting an aspersion on you. It was only the result of my native frankness. I never have failed to relate to a friendly person what I see, think, and hear. Now I will correct myself. Never henceforth will I practise my frankness on you: even my thoughts shall be restrained."

But at times he attempted to keep the young lady in some sort of discipline.

Going to dine two miles off the Polish mile, be it observed, is more than three times the length of ours is a very bad thing, not for herself, he hastens to add: four miles for your delicate mother are too much, and I am afraid lest she should feel it. As for you, if it were eight, all the better. The more you exert yourself the better your health will be. Jump, laugh, run, but dont sleep after dinner; and if you cannot go out, at least walk in the hall, play or read."

Again: Please write more clearly, for I lose half of the pleasure; or if you will write in pencil, wet it in water, then the letters will not be rubbed out."

On her side the lady imposed orders upon her lover with which he, not very willingly, complied.

“I have acted according to thy command,” he writes, “and will not go to the christening, although it was disagreeable to me to refuse. I have no choice, because thou only art the mistress of my heart. Do whatever seems to thee best. To behold thee happy is my prayer to God.” He tells her that he sees her father prowling about the windows of his own house and looking suspiciously in the direction of Kosciuszko’s, but: “I will do as thou desirest, and will behave most politely, and if he says anything against my opinions I will gnaw out my tongue, but will answer nothing back."

The ill-founded rumour that in Kosciuszko’s youth he had intended to run off with Ludwika Sosnowska had got to the ears of Tekla’s father. Certain enemies of Kosciuszko’s did their best to slander him yet further. The result was a scene of the sort more familiar a hundred and odd years ago than now: a girl throwing herself weeping at the feet of an enraged parent, the wrath of the father dissolving into tears, but his determination remaining implacable. The history of it was duly handed on to the absent Kosciuszko, whose comment was as follows:

“I return thee, but bathed with tears, thy goodnight.” He charges Tekla not to let her mother, who regarded Kosciuszko with sincere affection, fret herself sick over what had happened. “Embrace her as fondly as she loves thee. ... Amuse and distract her so that her thoughts may incline her to sleep.” He complains that Tekla does not tell him how she herself has weathered the storm: that he knows nothing of what is happening in her home. I should be glad to be even in thy heart and enfold thee all within my heart. Each moment makes me uneasy for thee. ... As for me ... all my mind is confused. There is bitterness in my heart, and I feel fever tearing my inmost being. Go to bed, and sleep with pleasant thoughts, seeing thy mother better. ... I commend thee to that Providence who is beneficent to us all. Once more I embrace thee. I am going away, but in thought I am always present by thy side."

To Tekla’s mother he wrote:

“I cannot, God knows, I cannot keep silence or

send letters, for what I have heard and read has struck me like a thunderbolt. You do not bid me write again, my little mother here he uses one of the caressing untranslatable Polish diminutives. I see that you have been prevailed upon by his [her husbands] persuasions. I see that I shall be parted from her for ever. ... I will always act according to the bidding of the mother who is mine and the mother of her who will always be in my heart. I will write no more and will not visit at her house, that the sight of her shall not be as poison to me. ... However, may the all High Providence bless you; and now I can write no more."

He then went off to manoeuvres. But the lovers had by no means given up hope. They continued their correspondence, and Kosciuszko, at Tekla’s suggestion and subject to her approval, sent her a letter which he had drawn up for her father with a formal request for her hand.

The father returned an unmitigated refusal, repeating the absurd charge that Kosciuszko had intended to abduct his daughter. To this Kosciuszko replied with dignity and respect, ending with the words:

“If I cannot gain for myself your favour, if I do not win for myself the hope of gaining her I love, if I do not receive the title so honourable for me of your son and am not to be made happy, at least I look for the approbation of an honest man."

Zurowski’s answer was to remove his family to his Galician estate. Kosciuszko wrote joint letters to the mother, whom he still fondly terms his “little mother,” and to the daughter, assuring the former that his reply to her husband had been:

“... most mild because he is your husband and the father of my little Tekla; but I now see no chance after such a letter [the father’s], at the very memory of which my blood boils. But I thank you for your kindness to me, which will be held in my undying remembrance. Your character, your rare attachment to your daughter, will be an example to all. ... May you live long and happily, and you will find your reward when you wish to take it. My God! what a horrible idea that I should have done violence to a law of nature, and in spite of the father have carried off from his house my beloved! And thou, the life of my heart, who wert to have been the sweetness of all my life, little Tekla, forgive me for not finding fitting words at this moment, but, weeping, I bow my head to kiss thy little feet with affection that shall endure for ever. Do not exalt me in thy thoughts, but tread down all the proofs of my friendship and drown in thy memory my love for thee."

“I will always be with you both” this to Tekla’s mother, bidding her good-bye in language of unshaken affection: although not present, yet in heart and thought."

Korzon notices that at the moment of Kosciuszko’s rebuff at the hands of his Tekla’s father, who was after all nobody more than an ordinary landowner, the rejected suitor had several thousand soldiers under his command, and in days when wild and lawless acts were not unknown, and not difficult of execution in a country where conditions were unsettled and communications long, it would have been easy enough for him to have carried his way by sheer force. But outrage and violence against another’s rights, defiance of law and honour, were foreign to Kosciuszko’s whole trend of character. Here, then, love passes out of Kosciuszko’s life, whose only passion henceforth will be that of devotion to his country. Five years later Tekla married Kniaziewicz, the friend of Kosciuszko who, with him, was to be sung in the most famous of Poland’s poems, the Pan Tadeusz of Adam Mickiewicz.