The people of Warsaw appeared to us wonderfully lively and cheerful compared with the Russians. Michelet, who calls the Lithuanians “children of the shadows,” speaks of the Poles as “children of the sun,” and they seemed to us to deserve it. The writings of the great national poet Mickiewicz are full of vigor and animation, and free from the constant melancholy of Russian authors. The streets are bright and handsome, and the noble Vistula, which traverses Poland from the south to the north, flows magnificently through the town.
Close to the bridge stands the handsome Palace of the former kings. It was chiefly built by Sigismund III., who is represented in a bronze statue on a pillar, in the square opposite the entrance. The portraits of his predecessors by Bacciarelli, with which Sigismund adorned its apartments, have been carried off to Moscow, and are now in the Kremlin. The thirteenth century cathedral close by, hung with archiepiscopal portraits, strikes those who arrive from Russia by its Gothic architecture. One had quite forgotten what Gothic was like in that country! Beyond the cathedral is the old town, with narrow streets of tall houses, Iike the Faubourg St. Antoine at Paris.
One side of the hotel looks down upon the gloomy Saxony Square, beyond which is a pleasant little public garden, and further still a bazaar. The street of the Cracow Faubourg and the Novi Sviat (New World) Street lead to a pretty little church dedicated to St. Alexander, and built by Alexander I. in 1815. Beyond this it may be well to take a carriage down the avenues to the pretty little suburban palace and park of Lazienki, built in the middle of the last century by the last miserable king, Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski, and looking, with its canals, and bridges, and flowers in tubs, as Reclus describes it, like a “stage setting in the open air.”
From the outside of the Lazienki Park, the road descends into the dusty plain of Vela, where as many as 200,000 Polish nobles used to encamp during the hotly disputed royal elections. In the midst of the plain were two enclosures-one for the senate, the other for the nuncios. The first was oblong, surrounded by a rampart, in the midst of which, at the time of the election, a temporary building of wood is erected, called “szopa,” covered at the top and open at the sides. Near it was another enclosure for the nuncios of a circular form, from which it derives the name of “kola” or circle. Within this was no building, the nuncios assembling in the open air. When the chambers were united they met within the “kola”; the chairs for the senators and the benches for the nuncios being ranged in the same order as in the senate-house at Warsaw, the seat of the primate occupying the central place.
It is necessary to have two horses to drag a drosky along the road like a plowed field which crosses the plain to Villanov, a charming, interesting, well-kept “great house” of the Potoeki–the Holland House of Warsaw. It was built by the famous John Sobieski (John III.) * and was sold after his death. Here he spent the latter years of his lifean unhappy life, as he had no peace in the diet from the jealousy of the nobles, and no peace at home from the brawls of his parsimonious French wife, Marie de la Grange, with her children. This imperious woman also contrived to alienate the affection of his subjects and to render the close of his reign unpopular. On his deathbed, Zaluski, bishop of Plotsko, endeavored in vain to persuade him to make his will. “My orders are not attended to while I am alive,” he said, “how can I expect them to be obeyed when I am dead?” On the day of his birth, which was also that of his election, he died. The hatred of the queen for her eldest son, John Sobieski, then led her to oppose his election, to make public speeches against him, and even in order to prevent his being king to persuade the Poles to choose any candidate rather than one of her own children. Their choice fell on Augustus, Elector of Saxony, but when he was defeated at the battle of Clissow, veneration for the name of Sobieski induced Charles XII. to offer the crown to James Sobieski.
This young prince, however, being at Breslau at the time, was seized (1704) by Saxon horsemen, with his brother Constantine, and imprisoned at Pleissenburg, near Leipsic, and afterward at Konigstein. Meanwhile Augustus had abdicated, but Stanislaus Letzinski had been elected in his place, so that James Sobieski died without a kingdom in 1737, at Zolkiev in Russia, the name of Sobieski becoming extinct in his person. From his elder daughter, married to the Prince de Turenne, several noble French families are descended; his younger daughter, Clementina, was married at Montefiascone in 1719 to James Edward Stuart, the Chevalier de St. George, and died in 1735, the mother of Charles Edward, and Henry, Cardinal York.
The palace of Villanov was sold after the death of the great Sobieski, and the reliefs on the outside, representing his victories, were not put up by that modest king, but by Augustus IL, by whom the house was afterward occupied. It contains stately old rooms, decorated with portraits and cabinets. Sobieski himself and Marie de la Grange are repeatedly represented; there is also a picture gallery filled with in-different copies, and a very few originals. Several small rooms are prettily decorated in Chinese taste, with Chinese curiosities. The gardens, skirted by water, are pleasant and old-fashioned. On the green-sward near the handsome church stands a great Gothic tomb of the Potocki.