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John Paul Jones
Chapter XXIV - 1789 - 1790


IT is greatly to he regretted that by his wasted services in Russia, where he contracted the illness which terminated fatally in his forty-fifth year, Paul Jones shortened a career so full of brilliant possibilities. He had entered the Russian navy against the advice of his closest friends, and Washington so strongly disapproved of the "Champion of Liberty" enrolling himself under the banner of despotic Catherine, that he always afterward blamed Thomas Jefferson for his part in the negotiation.

On the 31st of December, 1789, the Rear-Admiral was commanded to appear at Court for a private audience. He presented the flattering and insincere letter with which Potemkin had charged him, in which he was warmly recommended to the Empress, only to be informed a day or so later that the Empress must await the arrival of Prince Potemkin before coming to any decision.

A strange woman this, who, above her love of autocracy, preserved so strongly that Teutonic strain of subserviency to the male which, in her barbarian ancestresses, had made them meekly condone the loss of their noses, hacked off by irate lords in punishment for imaginary—or found out—misdemeanour: the spirit which made her endure being struck by her lover, and write meekly to him across the length of her Empire, "Have I done well, my master?"

Jones's reception at Court and his success socially were not pleasing to his enemies, who set afoot a vile intrigue to ruin him. The old story of Mungo Maxwell was resurrected, but the victim this time was Jones's nephew, who had been flogged to death at his orders. This new conspiracy was of a still more disgraceful nature, and planned, it is shameful to say, by those high in authority. "In every despotic Court, especially in that of St. Petersburg, political intriguers never are in want of servile instruments to forward their basest and darkest purposes. In the present case these tools were found of all ranks, though of but one nation." The Comte de Ségur in his memoirs presents the intrigue clearly, as from his important diplomatic position he was acquainted with the innermost life at Court. All during his residence in Russia he played such a prominent part that a rival once said, "The Empress does not, as a rule, tell her ministers what to do until Ségur has advised her what to tell them."

He begins—

"Paul Jones, a sharer in the victories of the Prince de Nassau, had returned to St. Petersburg; his enemies, unable to bear the triumph of a man whom they treated as a vagabond, a rebel, and a corsair, resolved to destroy him.

"This atrocity, which ought to be imputed to some envious cowards, was, I think, very unjustly attributed to the English officers in the Russian navy, and to the merchants who were their countrymen. These, in truth, did not disguise their animosity against Paul Jones; but it would be unjust to affix upon all a base intrigue, which was, perhaps, but the work of two or three who have continued unknown.

"The Rear-Admiral was favourably welcomed at Court; often invited to dinner by the Empress, and received with distinction into the best society in the city; on a sudden Catherine commanded him to appear no more in her presence.

"He was informed that he was accused of an infamous crime, of assaulting a young girl of fourteen, of grossly violating her, and that, probably, after some preliminary information he would be tried by the Courts of Admiralty, in which there were many English officers, who were strongly prejudiced against him.

"As soon as this order was known every one abandoned the unhappy American; no one spoke to him, people avoided saluting him, and every door was shut against him.

"All those by whom but yesterday he had been eagerly welcomed, now fled from him as if he had been infected with a plague; besides, no advocate would take charge of his cause, and no public man would consent to listen to him; at last even his servants would not continue in his service, and Paul Jones, whose exploits every one had so recently been ready to proclaim, and whose friendship had been sought after, found himself alone in the midst of an immense population; Petersburg, a great capital, became to him a desert.

"I went to see him; he was moved even to tears by my visit. ' I was unwilling,' he said to me, shaking me by the hand, 'to knock at your door, and to expose myself to a fresh affront, which would have been more cutting than all the rest. I have braved death a thousand times, now I wish for it.' His appearance, his arms being laid upon the table, made me suspect some desperate intention.

"'Resume,' I said to him, 'your composure and your courage. Do you not know that human life, like the sea, has its storms, and that fortune is even more capricious than the winds If, as I hope, you are innocent, brave this sudden tempest; if, unhappily, you are guilty, confess it to me with unreserved frankness, and I will do everything to snatch you, by a sudden flight (evasion), from the danger which threatens you.'

"'I swear to you upon my honour,' said he, 'that I am innocent, and a victim of the most infamous calumny. This is the truth—Some days since a young girl came to me in the morning to ask me if I could give her some linen or lace to mend. She then indulged in some rather earnest and indecent allurements. Astonished at so much boldness in one of such few years, I felt compassion for her; I advised her not to enter upon so vile a career, gave her some money, and dismissed her; but she was determined to remain.

"'Impatient at this resistance I took her by the hand and led her to the door; but at the instant when the door was opened, the little profligate tore her sleeves and her neckerchief, raised great cries, complained that I had assaulted her, and threw herself into the arms of an old woman, whom she called her mother, and who, certainly, was not brought there by chance. The mother and daughter raised the house with their cries, went out and denounced me; and now you know all.'

Very well,' I said; 'but cannot you learn the names of those adventurers '

The porter knows them,' he replied. 'Here are their names written down, but I do not know where they live. I was desirous of immediately presenting a memorial about this ridiculous affair, first to the Minister and then to the Empress; but I have been interdicted from access to both of them.'

"'Give me the paper,' I said; 'resume your accustomed firmness; he comforted; let me undertake it; in a short time we shall meet again.'

"As soon as I had returned home I directed some sharp and intelligent agents, who were devoted to me, to get information respecting these suspected females, and to find out what was their mode of life. I was not long in learning that the old woman was in the habit of carrying on a vile traffic in young girls, whom she passed off as her daughters.

"When I was furnished with all the 'documents and attestations for which I had occasion, I hastened to show them to Paul Jones. 'You have nothing more to fear,' said I, 'the wretches are unmasked. It is only necessary to open the eyes of the Empress, and let her see how unworthily she has been deceived; but this is not so very easy: truth encounters a multitude of people at the doors of a palace, who are very clever in arresting its progress; and sealed letters are, of all others, those which are intercepted with the greatest art and care.'

Nevertheless, I know that the Empress, who is not ignorant of this, has directed, under very heavy penalties, that no one shall detain on the way any letters which are addressed to her personally, and which may be sent to her by post; therefore, here is a very long letter which I have written to her in your name; nothing of the detail is omitted, although it contains some rough expressions. I am sorry for the Empress; but since she heard and gave credit to a calumny, it is but right she should read the justification with patience. Copy this letter, sign it, and I will take charge of it; I will send some one to put it in the post at the nearest town. Take courage; believe me, your triumph is not doubtful.'

"In fact, the letter was sent and put in the post; the Empress received it, and, after having read this memorial, which was fully explanatory, and accompanied by undeniable attestations, she inveighed bitterly against the informers, revoked her rigorous orders, recalled Paul Jones to Court, and received him with her usual kindness.

That grave seaman enjoyed with a becoming pride a reparation which was due to him; but he trusted very little to the compliments that were unblushingly heaped upon him by the many persons who had fled from him in his disgrace; and shortly afterwards, disgusted with a country where the fortune of a man may he exposed to such humiliations, under the pretence of ill-health he asked leave of the Empress to retire, which she granted him."

The account of this attack on a man enjoying the exalted rank Rear-Admiral Jones did gives food for thought. In Russia, at that moment, the crime of which he was accused would have been no bar to his advancement." Nor, had it not been a well-laid plot, would the unsupported word of the lowest class of woman been listened to, much less taken uncorroborated. Such people were knouted and disposed of by the police if they dared to open their mouths, much less openly attack those from whom they gained their evil living. All these facts point to one conclusion that the plot was of purely Russian origin, for no English or foreigners controlled the Russian authorities at their pleasure, and Jones, in his letter to Potemkin, complains that his "servant was kept prisoner by the officers of police for several hours, two days successively, and threatened with the knout." Also, that M. Crimpin, whom he employed as advocate, has been forbidden by the governor of the city, "at his peril, or any other person, to meddle with my cause!"

He asks Potemkin " Shall it be said in Russia a wretched woman, who eloped from her husband and family in the country, stole away her daughter, lives here in a house of bad fame, and leads a debauched and adulterous life, has found credit enough on a simple complaint, unsupported by any proof, to affect the honour of a general officer of reputation, who has merited and received the decorations of America, of France, and of this Empire?

It is said this plot was traced to Nassau-Sicgen, a nephew of Beshorodko, and young Zouboff; but de Ségur, who was in a position to know, makes no such allegation in his Souvenirs and Anecdotes. Jones left a mass of papers relating to the matter, and in the letter to Potemkin calls attention to the accusation that he was alleged to have held a long conversation with the girl in Russian, a language unknown to him! That Paul had powerful enemies is an established fact. During his service in the Black Sea, not a letter of any sort reached him, and he was in a white heat of fury at the thought of his most private affairs being common property in the hands of his enemies. Astonished at the total neglect on the part of every one, he could not understand the situation, until, through the bag of the French Embassy, he received a letter from the American Minister, dated Paris, March 1789, which began by telling him that his letter from St. Petersburg, January 31st, was the "only proof his friends had of his existence since he left Copenhagen." It is idle to suppose that this outrageous tampering with his letters was not connived at in high places. So widely known was this weakness of the Russian Government, that when Catherine's son, the Archduke Paul, travelled through Europe with the Archduchess, he arranged for his private correspondence to he forwarded to the Swedish post-office by couriers. Alas! for his correspondent, the frivolous aide-de-camp Bibikoff, who had the rashness to write of Potemkin as "One Eye "- the courier bearing the unlucky letter was intercepted at Riga, and poor I3ihikoff sent to Astrachan, where he died— suddenly.

Though restored to favour, Jones at heart was no longer enthusiastic for the service of the Empress. Always sanguine, he hoped for the fulfilment of the innumerable plans he had perfected and laid before the Ministers; such as projects for commercial treaties between Russia and the United States, which were speedily pigeon-holed. He was furious at the garbled versions of the campaign of the Liman, which were circulated on all sides; having been invited to Russia by the most flattering promises and inducements, why this sudden change of face? Polernkin had no fur/her use for him in Russia. This in one sentence explains more clearly than endless volumes that long chain of inexplicable events which so grievously chagrined a man whose greatest fault was his readiness to put faith in the protestations of apparent friends. Did he hope against hope, or were his eyes blinded when he wrote to Jefferson from St. Petersburg: "I can only inform you that I returned here by special desire of the Empress, but I know not as yet how or where I am to be employed for the next campaign"? He wished that the United States, which had concluded a treaty with Morocco, would make common cause with Russia in a war against the Barbary States, and put a stop to their piratical interference with commerce; hoping Count Besborodko would "appoint him to make known the intentions of the Empress to the United States." Paul alludes to the incivility displayed by Besborodko on the occasion of his calling to take leave, as he saw the "Count go out of another door, and depart without a single expression of ordinary civility addressed to me at the moment of my leaving Russia, to console me for all the bitter mortifications I have endured in this Empire. Before coming to Russia I had been connected with several governments, and no Minister ever either refused me an audience, or failed to reply to my letters." Perhaps, with the incessant tribulations to which Jones had been subjected, came a sort of forgetfulness, for what of the highly unsatisfactory correspondence between de Sartine and himself, when he was soliciting a ship from the French Government?

His sole object in calling on Besborodko, he explained, was to take leave and get his passport. It seems that he experienced some difficulty about his arrears of pay, and, having been told by the Comte de Bruce that the Empress granted him leave of absence for two years with the appointments of his military rank during his absence, wished to adjust the matter before leaving Russia. Jones had only received his pay and allowances from the time of his entry into the service to the 1st of July, 1789, some i800 roubles a year; the rouble being approximately four shillings. It was said that" Her Majesty likewise mentioned nothing but the appointment then due."

If I could believe that this was her Majesty's intention I should remain silent," he comments, "for I certainly did not accept the service her Majesty offered me on account of my appointments or the usual emoluments of my grade." However, the business was satisfactorily concluded before Jones left St. Petersburg.

The Rear-Admiral was granted a farewell audience by the Empress, who cheerily wished him bon voyage. His staunch friend, de Ségur, gave him a letter to the Comte Montmorin, in which Jones's services were most flatteringly alluded to, and enclosed an article to be printed in the Gazelle de France, in absolute refutation of the slanders spread by his enemies.

"This article will undeceive those who have believed in the calumny, and will prove to the friends and compatriots of the Vice-Admiral, that he has sustained the reputation acquired by his bravery and his talents during the last war; that the Empress desires to retain him in her service; and that if he absents himself at this moment, it is with his own free will and for particular reasons which cannot leave any stain on his honour.

"The glorious marks of the satisfaction and bounty of the King towards M. Paul Jones, his attachment to France, which he has served so usefully in the common cause, his rights as a subject and as an admiral of the United States, the protection of the Ministers of the King, and my personal friendship for this distinguished officer, with whom I made a campaign in America, are so many reasons which appear to me to justify the interest which I took in all that concerned him during his stay in Russia."

This announcement alluded to Jones in flattering terms, ending: "As a mark of favour for his conduct during this campaign, the Empress has decorated him with the insignia of the Order of St. Anne, and her Imperial Majesty, satisfied with his services, only grants him permission to absent himself for a limited time, and still preserves for him his emoluments and his rank."

Thanks to the Chevalier Littlepage, a descendant of one of the Irish Brigade, Paul was able, in 1791, to fathom "the mystery of his treatment in Russia," for the Chevalier Littlepage travelled from Madrid to Paris with a "gentleman of high rank in the diplomatic corps." This personage, who had been in St. Petersburg during Jones's stay there, declared it to have been "conducted by a little great man behind the curtain. The unequalled reception with which I had at first been honoured by the Empress had been extremely mortifying and painful to the English at St. Peters- burg, and the courtier just mentioned (finding that politics had taken a turn far more alarming than he had expected at the beginning of the war), wishing to soothe the Court at London into a pacific humour, found no first step so expedient as that of sacrificing me. But instead of producing the effect he wished, this base conduct, on which he pretended to ground a conciliation, rather tended to widen the political breach, and made him despised by the English minister, by the English Cabinet, and by the gentleman who related the secret to Mr. Littlepage." The letter of Mr. Littlepage, enclosed with this, "in part confirms this solution of an intrigue so essentially Russian. Yet there remains some secret cause and movement impossible to fathom" The campaign upon the Liman," says Chevalier Littlepage, "added lustre to the arms of Russia, and ought to have established for ever the reputation and fortune of the gallant officer to whose conduct those successes were owing." (Littlepage attributes to the Rear-Admiral the entire success of the campaign of 1788; not, like Comte de Ségur, dividing his laurels with Nassau; and it is to be remembered that Littlepage was an eye-witness.) He concludes by commenting on the very apparent truth that unfortunately in Russia, more perhaps than elsewhere, everything is governed by intrigues. "Some political motives, I have reason to think, concurred in depriving Rear-Admiral Jones of the fruits of his services; he was thought to he particularly obnoxious to the English nation, and the idea of paying a servile compliment to a power whose enmity occasions all the present embarrassments of Russia, induced some leading persons to ruin him, in the opinion of the Empress, by an accusation too ridiculous to be mentioned."

One of Jones's biographers ascribes to him the intention of entering the Swedish navy, but there is nothing very definite to confirm the statement; and the same writer goes on to say the Rear-Admiral had always intended returning by way of Copenhagen and Berlin, "but as it was known that he left Russia dissatisfied, he deemed it best to avoid all further occasion of giving his enemies any handle against him, and accordingly he kept away from places where it might be presumed that he was tempted to tell tales or utter complaints."

Just why Paul should have been less likely to utter complaints at Warsaw, where he went, than at other places, it is hard to explain. If he had wished a sympathetic ear for his wrongs, there was the Polish patriot, Kosciusko, with his hatred of Russia and his love of liberty, who fought so gallantly to free his country. It is not unlikely that the two had met in America, where Kosciusko served on Washington's staff during the war. The men became good friends, and there ensued an enigmatic correspondence, from which one infers the Pole tried to enlist the Scotch- man's aid in his plots against Russia, as the Rear- Admiral wrote, from Amsterdam in 1789, that a moment's reflection would convince Kosciusko that the considerations he owed to himself, as well as the delicacy of his situation—still being an officer in the Russian service--did not permit him to take such a step. There is little doubt that, had he been free, the lofty patriotism of Kosciusko would have drawn Jones, always the champion of liberty, into the struggle which ended the life of the patriotic Pole.

After leaving Russia, Jones passed several months in the tranquillity of Holland, where he had friends, pursuing the amusements of a gentleman of leisure, though his brain and pen were never idle. After his experiences in Russia, it was a rare treat to receive and write letters, secure in the knowledge that they would he in the hands of those to whom they were addressed, without hindrance other than the slowness of the posts. At the comparatively young age of forty-two, Paul had come to the forked ways. There was no call for his services in America; France admired and petted him, but offered no employment; with Russia he was sick at heart. His health had never recovered from the exposure of his reckless voyages; his musical voice, so often alluded to, showed signs of breaking, and his general condition was such as to give grave anxiety to his intimates. He was as sanguine as ever, and wrote to a friend in Hamburg of his intention to go there in the spring "and pay my court to some of your rich old ladies. . . . I must stay in Europe till it is seen what changes the present politics will produce . . . if you think I can pass my time quietly, agreeably, and at a small expense in Hamburg, I should prefer it to the fluctuating prospects of other places."

Paul Jones in the character of a suitor to rich old ladies, shows the versatile hero in another light. His feminine correspondence was, as of yore, most extended, and he thought of going to Avignon to visit Madame la Mair d'Altigny, to whom he wrote on February 8, 1790. The usual mystery shrouds this lady, and the postscript gives food for surmise, when, nearly a year later, he asks: "Have you not sufficient confidence in my discretion to explain 'the enigma' of the happiness with which you say, ' I will he loaded, and which will astonish me as soon as I know it '?

Perhaps it was a little mal-apropos that Jones sent his "great respect" to the celebrated Madame Krudener, when writing to her husband, as that charming lady—.who had not then developed the role of prophetess and religious mentor to the Emperor Alexander—tiring of the "shawl dances," a la JiamilIon, with which she delighted her Parisian circle, was amusing herself by a violent amour with that dashing cavalry officer, Louis de Frégville! Jones asks Baron Krudener's aid in securing his Danish pension, which the other assured him would be easy; but at the time of his death he speaks of never having received a penny of it.

The Rear-Admiral inforced the Empress Catherine that "Her Majesty would soon receive a direct proof of the unanimous approbation with which I am honoured by the United States. I allude to the gold medal which I am to receive, and respecting which you have in your hands a copy of the unanimous act of Congress. . . . The United States have ordered a copy of my medal to be presented to every sovereign in Europe, Great Britain excepted."

While passing through Vienna, Jones had been received at the Court of Joseph II, and met the Archduke, afterwards Leopold II, whom he failed to find impressive, though he was the "son of Maria Theresa and the brother of Marie Antoinette." It is a strange anomaly, that a man who cared so little for recompense from those he served, should have had so keen and successful a grasp of financial matters, in which he was invariably fortunate. His Amsterdam agents had managed the investments placed in their hands most satisfactorily, and in 1790 he was obliged to go to London at Dr. Bancroft's request, as the latter had taken Sir Robert Harris into partnership, and insisted that Jones should look over his books. This inspection was most gratifying, and showed some £6000 to his credit, £4000 of which he immediately drew, undoubtedly with the intention of providing for Aime de Telusson, and settling some debts incurred on her account.

If Jones had been uncertain about his reception in England, his mind was shortly set at rest. Though the papers had been filled by Tooke with calumnies, based on the Russian slander, he found an unexpected champion in Sir Robert Curtis. Just at that moment when the dastardly plot was unravelled by de Ségur, the Empress had sent for Captain (later Sir Robert) Curtis, "one of the noblest and most chivalric men that ever wore the British naval uniform, which is about all that can he said of any man," whom she wished to have in her service. Curtis and de Ségur had been friends in India long ago, and the former felt so incensed at the way Paul Jones was slandered, that he bluntly refused to enter the Russian service, and, what is more to the point, immediately on reaching London, wrote an article, over the signature, "A Briton Afloat," denouneing, in the strongest language, the treatment to which so gallant a sailor had been subjected, and concluding—

They ought to cease entertaining the hatreds of a past war as to Paul Jones, and welcome him to their respect and admiration as the only commander in naval history who had shown himself able to make French sailors fight like Englishmen . . . and to reflect with pride that he could never have done this if he had not himself been British born. Those who wish to do so, may call him a pirate. To me he was a rebel, indeed, in the American Revolution; but his rebellion has succeeded, its success has long been acknowledged by our sovereign, and now I think it high time to view him on his merits as a fighter and a conqueror on the sea, without prejudice and without any more impotent hate."

Society lost no time in flocking to see this much- discussed character. The epistolary Walpole showed him the delights of Strawberry Hill; he visited Charles James Fox, Lady Wemyss, and other "people of fashion," including Lady Ossory, who showed him marked civility. In company with the Prince Regent, his old friend the Due d'Orléans, and a following of "Bloods," he had the sublime felicity of being present at the championship prize-fight between "Big Ben Ryan "and Mendoza, two of the Prince Regent's pets, the event being held at Wormwood Scrubbs. Jones rode frequently in the Park, where the spectacle of a sailor on horseback startled the writer of the London Chronicle into marvelling where so distinguished a son of Neptune could have had the opportunity of learning to ride other than sea-horses. The discussions on the Russian question, which agitated Parliament at that moment, interested him deeply, as he had so recently come from the scene of war.


 


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