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John Paul Jones
Chapter XXII - 1783 - 1788


OUT of touch as he was with the hourly changes, the gossip and intrigue of his Paris, Jones came back very quietly, wishing to pick up the broken links before announcing his return. With this end in view, he went to the Hotel de Beauvois, where he was unknown, sending word to the American Minister, Thomas Jefferson, of his arrival, and Jefferson called on him immediately. We know from his complaints to Aimee de Telusson that letters had been few and far between, and if those from her had never reached their destination, such as were written by casual correspondents shared a like fate, and Jefferson's gossip fell on eager ears long strangers to news of a world which held for him such brilliant and tender memories. Aimee, he learned, had received the appointment of Court reader, translator of English plays and periodicals, and was living at Versailles. Almost in the same breath Jones received information which radically changed his future career, for Mr. Jefferson told him he had been requested by Baron Simolin, the Russian Ambassador, to lay before him a proposition which was, in brief, an unofficial offer of service in the Russian navy.

In his journal Jones says, "I was at first inclined to view the proposition as chimerical, though I knew that the impending war between Russia and Turkey must afford grand possibilities of naval operations, because an indispensable factor in it would be the destruction of the Turkish navy in the Euxine, and the conversion of that land-locked sea into a Russian lake...

"On the other hand, I knew little of Russia or the Russians. My acquaintance with them was limited to less than a dozen personages in Imperial diplomatic service. . . . I knew not one word of the language. I could not see how it would be possible to satisfactorily direct operations of subordinates in warfare through interpreters. . . . I had formed impressions as to the genius and methods of government in Russia that accorded ill with any conception of what ought to be in that respect . . . these impressions had been wholly derived from reading. I was, of course, open to whatever lessons actual observation and experience might teach. . . . I admitted to him that it opened up a vision of ambitious hopes and dreams of glory on a grand scale too powerful and too vivid to be lightly cast aside.

"Mr. Jefferson was complimentary enough to say that while my knowledge of French would enable me to deal fully with Russians in high station, he was persuaded that my aptness at learning foreign tongues would doubtless soon remove the objections on the score of the Russian language itself. He said he had but one more duty to discharge in the premises, namely, to bring me personally in contact with the Russian ambassador.

"Still mystified, however, as to the origin of this remarkable proposal, I set about investigating it in my own way. Proceeding in a day or two to Versailles, I placed myself en rapport with the Court entourage, and lost no time in setting the wits of Little Madame at work to trace out the mystery. She soon, through the gossip of the palace, had the plot unravelled.

"It appears from her revelations that a year or more before this time, or shortly after, I had tendered my services to the King in the hope of employment in a crusade against the Algerines, the Empress Catherine II had applied by autograph letter to his Majesty for the loan of a flag-officer of high rank, comparative youth and established capacity to organise and command her forces in the Black Sea.

His Majesty had officers of suitable rank and attainments for such an arduous task; as, for example, Kersaint, d'Alhert de Rions, or Morad de Galles; but, as I learned, they would not have viewed the opportunity with unquestioning favour. Besides, his Majesty from motives of state prudence, was not inclined to so palpably choose sides in the struggle between the Empress and the Sultan as would be involved in encouraging or even allowing a French vice-admiral or even contre-admiral of established repute to take active command against the Turks. His Majesty, in this dilemma, had then intimated to his ambassador near the Court of the Empress, that my own services might possibly be found available, and, if so, commending me in the most unqualified terms to the consideration of the Empress. On such representations by the Comte de Ségur to the Empress, she had instructed her ambassador at Versailles, the Baron Simolin, to approach me on the topic, and Simolin, in his turn, had employed the good offices of Mr. Jefferson to inaugurate the project with me. I learned also that the Empress had thus far succeeded in enlisting only the services of the Prince of NassauSiegen; and this did not add to my favourable impressions in view of my previous acquaintance with the prince in the affair of the Indien and other projects during the American War. I took precautions to fortify myself with the knowledge of preliminary events before meeting M. de Simolin."

This meeting, which took place at the house of the Chevalier Littlepage, ended without anything definite being arranged, and on the 24th of January Jones received his credentials as agent to Denmark, where he arrived the early part of February. It was a hard and trying journey at that time of year, as to reach Copenhagen he had to go first to Brussels overland, then to the Hague and Amsterdam, to Hamburg by packet, again by land to Lübeck, then by sea to Copenhagen, taking over a month, and he found himself, upon his arrival in March, very much out of health by the fatigues of the journey, narrowly escaping a severe attack of fever. But in a week or so he was himself again, and records in his journal—
"On my arrival I paid my respects to the Minister of France. He received me with great kindness; we went five days ago to the Minister of Foreign Affairs; I was much flattered with my reception, and our conversation was long and very particular respecting America and the new Constitution, of which I presented a copy. He observed that it had struck him as a very dangerous power to make the president commander-in-chief; in other respects it appeared to please him much, as leading to a new and sure treaty of commerce between America and Denmark."

Being presented at Court by the Baron de la Houge, Minister Plenipotentiary of France to the Danish Court, he comments: "I had a very polite and distinguished reception. The Queen Dowager conversed with me for some time, and said the most civil things. Her Majesty has a dignity of person and deportment which becomes her well, and which she has the secret to reconcile with great affability and ease. The Princess Royal is a charming person, and the graces are so much her own that it is impossible to see and converse with her without paying her that homage which artless beauty and good nature will ever command. All the royal family spoke to me, except the King, who speaks to no person when presented. His Majesty saluted me with great complaisance at first, and as often afterwards as we met in the course of the evening. The Prince Royal is greatly beloved and extremely affable; he asked me a number of pertinent questions respecting America. I had the honour to be invited to sup with his Majesty and the Royal Family. The company at table (consisting of seventy ladies and gentlemen, including the Royal Family, the Ministers of State and Foreign Ambassadors) was very brilliant."

"I must tell you," he writes Lafayette, "that Mr. Elliot (the same who filched Dr. Lee's papers at Berlin) was furious when he found my business at Copenhagen, and that I was received with great distinction at Court, and in all the best societies in Denmark. Every time I was invited to sup with the King, Elliot made an apology; he shut himself up for more than a month, and then left town. This occasioned much laughter; and as he had shunned society from the time of my arrival, people said he had gone off in a fright. "Jones" hopes that Mr. Jefferson is satisfied with the train in which I left the Danish business. It would have been impossible for me to have pushed it any farther, as I had not the full power to conclude it finally." This refers to his mission, which he was unable to bring to a definite conclusion, being informed through letter by Count Bernstorff, the Danish Minister of Foreign Affairs, that the King could take no further steps in the matter till the New Constitution had been formally adopted by the United States.

It has been a disputed subject as to the reason for the King of Denmark bestowing a pension of 1500 Danish crowns (£75) on the unsuccessful agent of the prize claims. It was merely a royal way of paying a compliment. "For the respect he had shown to the Danish flag while he commanded in the North Sea," was the official announcement. It placed Jones in an "embarrassing situation": but the fact that he never received a penny while living, and only left a record in his will, so his heirs might benefit by the accumulated £300, frees his memory from any complicity in the transaction.

Since Paul Jones's interview with Baron de Simolin at the Chevalier Littlepage's, there had been a most incessant correspondence carried on, in which the Baron, the American Minister, the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prince Potemkin, Comte de Ségur, who was supposed to hold an extraordinary influence over the Empress, and a score of others figured. It had been proposed to confer on the Chevalier Jones, on entering the Russian service, the grade of "captain- commandant, with the rank of major-general," which did not please Jones, who stipulated for that of rear- admiral, saying, "I cannot conceive the reason why any difficulty should be made to my being admitted into the marine of her Imperial Majesty as rear- admiral, a rank to which I have some claim, and that it should at the same time be proposed to give me the grade of major-general, to which I have no title." In the same letter to Jefferson he says, "If Congress should think I deserve the promotion that was proposed when I was in America, and should condescend to confer on me the grade of rear-admiral from the day I took the Serapis (September 23, 1779, exactly nine years before), I am persuaded it would be very agreeable to the Empress, who now deigns to offer me equal rank in her service, though I never had the honour to draw my sword in her cause, nor to do any other act that could merit her Imperial benevolence.  . . The mark I mentioned of the approbation of that honourable body (Congress) would he extremely flattering to me in the career I am now to pursue, and would stimulate all my ambition to acquire the necessary talents to merit that, and even greater favours at a future day. I ask for nothing, and beg leave to he understood as having hinted what is natural to conceive, that the mark of approbation could not fail to he infinitely serviceable to my views and success in the country where I am going."

Jones would not have accepted this command had Congress objected, but the country of his adoption had no need of his services, in fact, did not consider him in any way, and on his last departure from America he brought a letter to the king, in which they recommended that he should be allowed to cruise in one of the French fleets, to have the opportunity of studying naval tactics and rnanuvring. . . .. The flattering offer from the Empress Catherine changed all this.

Though Paul Jones had fought intrepidly for the "Cause of Liberty" and the "Rights of Man," there is no denying he went into the service of Russia heart and soul. "Loving glory as I do," he says of himself, "I am perhaps too much attached to honours, though personal interest is an idol to which I have never bowed the knee." It was a radical change of front to go from the service of the newest of countries into that of Imperial Russia, the most feudal, luxurious and barbaric—under a thin veneer of French polish —in the world. Catherine had her reputation, her favourites, and she was shamelessly open in what she did; boasting herself to be "as frank as an Englishman." She was a clever women, who used her pawns while they were useful, and broke them as a child docs an annoying toy when they irritated. It is not to be supposed that a man so well posted in the gossip of courts as Jones, Was unaware of the idiosyncrasies of this masterful sovereign, though it sounds a little incongruous to hear such sentiments as these coming from his pen.

"The unbounded admiration and profound respect which I have long felt for the glorious character of her Imperial Majesty forbids the idea that a sovereign so magnanimous should sanction any arrangement that may give pain at the outset to the man she deigns to honour with her notice, and who wishes to 'devote himself to her service." The latter part of the sentence somewhat modifies the idea expressed, as there is no doubt so astute a courtier as Jones knew every word he wrote would eventually reach the Imperial ears, and—the mighty lady loved flattery. This was part of the letter to Jefferson, urging his claims as a rear- admiral, declaring himself not in favour of a "conjoined command, which is hurtful and often fatal in military operations. There is no military man who is so entirely master of his passions as to keep free of jealousy and its consequences in such circumstances. Being quite a stranger, I have more to fear from a conjoined command than any other officer in the service of her Imperial Majesty. I cannot think why her Majesty should think it best to divide the command on the Black Sea; and if the direction of that department be already confided to an officer of sufficient ability and experience, I do not seek to interfere with his command."

The Empress in her instructions to Baron Krudener had described the appointment as that of "captain commandant," with the relative rank of major-general, but Jones said he could much better comprehend the meaning of the words "rear-admiral" than those used by the Empress, and, as they seemed to mean substantially the same thing, he would prefer the simpler and more strictly naval designation of rear- admiral. This being promised by Baron Krudcner, on the part of the Empress, the negotiations were concluded and Catherine wrote to him in her own hand—

"SIR,
"A courier from Paris has just brought from my envoy in France, M. de Simolin, the enclosed letter to Count Beshorodko. As I believe that this letter will help to confirm to you what I have already told you verbally, I have sent it and beg you to return it, as I have not even made a copy of it, so anxious am I that you should see it. I hope that it will efface all doubts from your mind, and prove to you that you are to be connected only with those who are most favourably disposed towards you. I have no doubt but that on your side you will fully justify the opinion which we have formed of you, and apply yourself with zeal to support the reputation and the name you have acquired for valour and skill on the element in which you are to serve.
"Adieu.
"I wish you happiness and health.
"CATHERINE."

Flattering as this seemed, Jones still hesitated, though the letter, sent by Imperial courier from St. Petersburg, determined him to go in person to see the woman who swayed the sceptre over the trackless wastes of the north. -

In his journal he said "Though I foresaw many obstacles in the way of my entering the service of Russia, I believed that I could not avoid going to St. Petersburg to thank the Empress for the favourable opinion she had conceived of me. I transferred the treaty going forward at Copenhagen to Paris, to he concluded here, and set out for St. Petersburg by Sweden.

"At Gresholm I was stopped by the ice, which prevented me crossing the Gulf of Bothnia, and even from approaching the first of the isles in the passage. After having made several unsuccessful efforts to get to Finland by the isles, I imagined that it might be practicable to effect my object by doubling the ice to the southward, and entering the Baltic Sea.

"This enterprise was very daring, and had never before been attempted. But by the north the roads were impracticable, and, knowing that the Empress expected me from day to day, I could not think of going back by Elsineur.

"I left Greshoim early one morning in an undecked passage-boat, about thirty-three feet in length. I made another boat follow, of half that size. This last was for dragging over the ice, and for passing from one piece of ice to another to gain the coast of Finland. I durst not make my project known to the boatmen, which would have been the sure way of defeating it. After endeavouring, as before, to gain the first isle, I made them steer for the south, and we kept along the coast of Sweden all the day, finding difficulty enough to pass between the ice and the shore. Towards night, being almost opposite Stockholm, pistol in hand, I forced the boatmen to enter the Baltic Sea and steer for the coast. We ran near the coast of Finland. All night the wind was fair, and we hoped to land next day. This we found impossible. The ice did not permit us to approach the shore, which we only saw from a distance. It was impossible to regain the Swedish side, the wind being high and directly contrary. I had nothing left for it but to stand for the Gulf of Finland. There was a small compass in the boat, and I fixed the lamp of my travelling carriage so as to throw a light on it.

"On the same night we lost the small boat; but the men saved themselves in the large one, which with difficulty escaped the same fate. At the end of four days we landed at Revel, where our enterprise was regarded as a kind of miracle. Having satisfied the boatmen for their services and their loss, I gave them a good pilot, with the provisions necessary for making their homeward voyage when the weather should become more favourable."

He makes no comment on the hardships of this voyage, and "arrived at St. Petersburg in the evening of the 23rd April, old style, and on the 25th had my first audience of the Empress. Her Majesty gave me so flattering a reception, and up to the period of my departure treated me with so much distinction that I was overcome by her courtesies (je me laissai séduire) and put myself in her hands without making any stipulation for my personal advantage. I demanded but one favour, 'that I should never be condemned unheard.'" And this one stipulation was totally ignored on the first opportunity!

Chivalrous to a degree in his dealings with women, Paul acted as the impulse dictated, and failed to secure for himself those lasting benefits gained by most of his contemporaries. There was a glamour about "Catherine-Slay-Tsar," as Walpole called her, never posessed by the more respectable type of woman, and unquestionably her condescension dazzled this latest recruit to her banner. Dissipated, bedizened old woman she was, but still Empress, and mistress of the art of flattery to a degree unsurpassed. It is unlikely she threw the handkerchief to the Chevalier, for, had she done so, those to whom the favour had not been accorded would have proclaimed the fact. Born in 1729, Catherine was sixty when Jones came to her Court in 1788; had she been younger history might have been written differently.

The ever ready courtiers fawned on him, overwhelming him with social attentions, and after his death the cards of every celebrity, diplomatic, military or social, were found in profusion among his papers. "He was received with a distinction that might have turned the soundest head. His very manner of approach had disposed people to gaze on the American hero as a wonder; his door was besieged with carriages, and his table loaded with invitations. In short, he was now in Russia, and the man whom, for the first time, the Empress delighted to honour; the expected conqueror of the Turks, and it might be a future Potcmkin."

In his frequent correspondence with Lafayette he tells him: "I was detained against my will, a fortnight, and continually feasted at Court, and in the first society; the Empress received me with a distinction the most flattering that perhaps any stranger can boast of on entering the Russian service. Her Majesty conferred on me immediately the grade of Rear-Admiral."

So versatile a man as Paul Jones unconsciously assumed, in a greater or lesser degree, the colour of his surroundings. Loyal as he had been to the interests of the United States while in their navy, his present duty lay to Russia. The fruits of his services in the former country were always, more or less, dead-sea apples, and the future seemed to promise tangible honours. About this time he expresses the sentiment—

"I certainly wish to be useful to the country which I have so long served. I love the people and their cause, and shall always rejoice when I can be useful to promote their happiness." He urges Lafayette to "come here, and pay your court to Bellona, who you are sure will receive you as her favourite. You would be charmed with Prince Potemkin. He is a most amiable man, and none can be more noble-minded. For the Empress, fame has never yet done her justice. I am sure that no stranger who has not known that illustrious character, ever conceived how much her Majesty is made to reign over a great empire to make people happy, and to attach grateful and susceptible minds. Is not the present a happy moment for France to declare for Russia?

Without commenting unkindly, it is apparent that one mind, which might not have been considered "susceptible," was certainly biased in favour of the woman who was, literally, the incarnation of despotic power, tyranny, autocracy and every principle that he had spent years in combating. "Such were the extraordinary lights that had suddenly dawned upon the former champion of liberty, and assertor of the 'dignity of human nature.'"


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