Alexander I: The Tsar Who Defeated Napoleon

Greg Afinogenov writes:

‘I am satisfied with Alexander and he ought to be satisfied with me,’ Napoleon wrote to the Empress Josephine in 1807. ‘If he were a woman, I think I would make him my mistress.’ Within five years, the tsar would repay Napoleon’s condescension by rolling back his conquests all across Europe, driving him to Paris and then St Helena, and finally building the Concert of Europe on the remains of his empire. Two decades later, in a chapter of Eugene Onegin he left enciphered for fear of discovery, Pushkin delivered a much more scathing indictment. Alexander I was

A ruler devious and weak\ A balding dandy, foe to work\ By mere chance in glory sheltered.\ … France once again in Bourbon hands,\ In Albion’s, the seas. The Pole\ Has freedom now. And we?\ Applause from country dames,\ Didactic odes, no more.\ Perhaps some future day we, too,\ Will, like the rest, come in\ To freedom’s charming halls,\ At last, enlightenment’s bright crown\ They’ll pull down on our heads.

(LRB 7 February 2013)