Volume 22, No.2 - Summer 1976
Editors of this issue: Bronius Vađkelis
Copyright © 1976 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.




The French writer, Henri Beyle (1783-1842), better known as Stendhal, took part in Napoleon's Russian campaign. From his correspondence and other writings it is known that in his journey to and from Moscow he traveled through Lithuania. Although it is difficult to get a clearer picture of his impressions of Lithuania, some details are nevertheless noteworthy.

Stendhal joined the cavalry dragoons through the patronage of his close relative and guardian Pierre Daru, who was the imperial commissary general, administrator, and later secretary of state. On July 11, 1807, Stendhal was promoted to the rank of deputy war commissary. Several years later, addressing himself to the government authorities, Stendhal wrote (1814, 1816, 1819) that for these duties he had been sent to Königsberg. At the time of his appointment, Stendhal was living in Brunswick, Germany, from where he wrote one letter on July 10 to his sister Pauline. On July 1, however, he had written her a rather puzzling statement: "We learned nothing since the occupation of Königsberg. We will go to Courlande, excellent country and point of departure for the city of Pierre."1 A few days later after the signing of the Treaty of Tilsit, the campaign to Courlande was no longer necessary. Stendhal thus lost a chance to visit Lithuania.


Stendhal journeyed through Lithuania five years later, but his itinerary differed somewhat from that of Napoleon.

As we read in Napoleon at la Lithuanie en 1812 by the historian Bronius Dundulis,2 the emperor and his Grand Army journeyed near and through Lithuania by the following route: Königsberg, where Napoleon was from June 12 to 17, Vëluva, Isrutis, Gumbinë, Stalupënai, Virbalis, Vilkaviđkis, (June 21 to 22), Pilkaviđkiai, Skriaudţiai, Kaunas, and from there — Vilnius.

Stendhal rode through Marijampolë — "le village de Mariampol" of which he wrote from Russia in October 1812. He traveled as a War Commissary, Inspector, Auditor, Commissariat official. Indeed, it was in Russia that he dealt mostly with matters of the commissariat — securing food for the French army.

As to the precise date of his departure, Stendhal informed his sister in his letter of July 14: "I will leave Paris for Vilnius in a week from this coming Thursday, that is, July 23, I believe... Besides needing money to buy some horses on the banks of the Nemunas, I have a crying debt of two thousand ten francs to my tailor. I sent the bill to my father."3

On the day of departure, Stendhal was received by the empress at Saint-Cloud. The same day in his letter to his sister he wrote that the empress had "honored me with several minutes' conversation concerning the road I should take, the duration of the journey, etc." He wanted to see the Prince of Rome (Napoleon's son) but the infant was asleep and he had to wait two hours — not a comfortable wait since he was "in full-dress uniform and lace." While waiting, he wrote a lengthy letter to his sister. The letter is interesting because we can learn from it Stendhal's itinerary and the view toward Lithuania that was held at that time by nobility and upper classes of France. There we read:

Here is my itinerary which you will be able to follow on the map: from Paris to Chalons, Metz, Mainz, Frankfurt-On-Main, Weimar (the Athens of Germany, it is there that Goethe lives and Schiller lived. All of that because the prince loves literature and the arts, he has palaces better situated than those of France, Russia and Austria), Leipzig, Torgau, Frankfurt-on-Oder, Konitz, Königsberg (where all the women are pretty), Insterburg, Gumbinen, Kaunas (where my friend the Chevalier de Noüe is commissary), Vilnius and from there through small towns which I do not know up to the Dwina. I shall travel fast, with a courier in advance, as far as Königsberg. But at this point the sweet effects of pillage begin to make themselves evident, and are doubly so at Kaunas: it is said that in the region of this town one can go fifty leagues without finding a living creature. (I regard all this as much exaggerated — a typical Paris rumor, which is as much as to say, utterly absurd.) The Prince Arch-Chancellor told me yesterday to try to have more luck than one of my colleagues, who took twenty-eight days to go from Paris to Vilnius. In this ravaged wilderness travel is very difficult, especially with a poor Viennese calash that will be crushed beneath a thousand packages: every single person I know has had the idea of entrusting me with one."

"By the way, Gaétan wanted to come with me. I told him that it was physically impossible for my calash to hold more than myself and my servant. Thereupon he wrote an impertinent letter accusing me of having offered to take him... Gaétan's letter is the sequel to the letter in which his father called me a charlatan.4

Among other things we learn here from Stendhal that letters from Paris reached Vilnius by way of relay "within ten days." And the above-mentioned Gaétan, whose last name was Gagnon, was Stendhal's relative on his mother's side, a nineteen-year-old lad.

That same day, from Saint-Cloud, Stendhal also wrote his brother-in-law François Perier-Lagrange. In the letter he makes the following reference about the journey: "I will be needing badly news of your superb health. I will be twenty days and twenty nights without stopping. I have two enormous portfolios and fifty special packages; among other things, a letter that Her Imperial Majesty just transmitted to me recommending that I bring it quickly to the emperor."5

Obviously, Stendhal traveled with no respite. He stopped for the first time, as we learn from his letter to his sister (July 27, 1812), after seventy-two hours of traveling. That was in Eckartsberg not far from Iena and Weimar. Perhaps that is how he hastened to Lithuania — stopping after certain intervals. Stendhal's specialist, Henri Martineau in his book Le Calendrier de Stendhal (Paris, Le Divan, 1950) points out that the writer reached Marijampolë in August. That must have been during the first few days of the month, since about August 12 he crossed the Berezina River for Bojarinkov where the imperial headquarters were.


It is difficult to surmise, how Stendhal got along in Lithuania, since his journals from that period have been lost. On his way to the emperor and carrying with him two document-filled portfolios, it is doubtful that he spent much time making notes in Lithuania. His journals, however, are very detailed for other periods. Nor are there any letters from his trip through Lithuania to Russia. It is therefore unknown whether he did what he had planned earlier — whether he bought any horses on the banks of the Nemunas.

Nevertheless, from his sojourn and his business in Lithuania can be found some details of his activities. Some of these concern his writings.

On leaving France, Stendhal brought with him his first draft for a history of painting in Italy. As early as 1811, he had edited a statement for the press that he had two of those volumes written and was sending them to Paris to be published. Most probably that statement was never sent to the newspapers, because, as V. del Litto, another specialist on Stendhal, attests, he had "not a word jotted down" of the work, (Correspondance I) at the time. But when he set out for Lithuania, he had already made some progress on the war and was hoping to have some time to work on it in Russia. There is evidence to the effect that he actually did work on it a little in Moscow. Stendhal himself had said that he brought twelve notebooks. And he did have his manuscript copied before leaving for the trip. A. Vinogradov in his book, Stendhal i ego vremia, asserts that on the banks of the Nemunas "for the first time the future author of the history of Italian art gathered in one place all his drafts, written on scraps of paper, diligently rewrote them into leather-bound notebooks and put everything into a small suitcase."6 Later, while fleeing Russia, those twelve little green volumes were lost in Maladechno. A few years after those incidents, Stendhal wrote to Louis Crozet (September 30, 1816):

"On my return to Paris I had the aforesaid draft copied out from the original manuscript, but I cannot recover the corrections made in the twelve handsome green volumes, small folio, which were eaten by the Cossacks."7

The trip beyond Kaunas was tiring for Stendhal. The country was indeed desolate, as some contemporaries had testified. Already from Smolensk, in his letter of August 24, 1812, to Félix Fauré, Stendhal complained that he "was plagued by a perversity of detail in the Vilnius region." The place of those misfortunes he calls Boyardoviscoma, near Krasnoya ("près de Krasnoie") where he was at a time when the country, according to him, had not yet been organized:

"I underwent extreme physical hardships. In order to arrive, I left my calash behind, and it has never caught up with me. Possibly it has been pillaged. For me personally this would be only half misfortune — about 4,000 francs' worth of effects lost, and the inconvenience — but I was carrying packages for everybody!"8

In Russia, Stendhal was assigned to Smolensk for the purpose of securing provisions for the French army in the Smolensk, Mogilev, and Vitebsk provinces. Using his own words, he "resisted as a devil" against that appointment. He was in charge to a greater or lesser extent of the French commissaries in those provinces. This he wrote in his letter from Moscow October 15 to his friend Noue, commissary in Kaunas. Stendhal appealed to him for such wordy matters:

Hence, I am completely ragged. A fact that will become conspicuous unless I can have one or two pairs of breeches made for myself. Accordingly, and having entire confidence in your obliging kindness, I pray you to have bought for me at Kaunas or Vilnius, by the first colleague who passes that way, four or five ells of blue cloth or six or seven ells of kerseymere, also blue.

If nothing of that sort exists in your government, have the commissioner buy it in Vilnius.9

The request was fruitless because the letter was discovered by the Russians and was made public only in 1913. Finally, even if the letter had actually reached Kaunas, Commissary Noue would hardly have had enough time to do something: he died there on October 13.

In Russia, Stendhal felt yet another need. Although he was unmarried, he did have several mistresses in Italy and France. In his letter from Russia he confided to the Countess Beugnot: "There you are, Madame, a great inconvenience.... For example, I have not had a chance to address a word to a lady since Marijampolë."10 From Moscow he wrote in a similar vein to the Countess Daru: "Apart from this, everything goes well: we have not seen a woman since the postmistresses of Poland, but by way of compensation we are great connoisseurs of fire."11

From Smolensk, Stendhal turned back to Paris on November 11. On December 4 he was in Maladechno where he lost the art history notes. In Maladechno, furthermore, he made a "fine decision." Here is how Stendhal, by this time in Königsberg, described the episode to his sister in his letter of December 28, 1812:

"In Maladechno, I believe, about thirty leagues from Vilnius, on the road to Minsk, shivering with cold and weak, I made a fine decision to precede the army. M. Busche and I made four leagues in three hours, we were rather relieved to find three post horses. We left and arrived in Vilnius rather worn-out."12

Apparently, Stendhal, together with the French Commissary Busche, ploughed those four leagues through the snow on foot until they found a posthouse with fresh horses.

Stendhal reached Vilnius on the evening of December 6. In the same letter from Königsberg he wrote: "We left again the 7th of the 8th and arrived in Gumbinen, where we recovered some strength."13

It has been suggested that while in Vilnius, Stendhal might have been at the French commandantura, the chief commissary's and chief treasurer's headquarters, as well as on the staff of the French army. All those institutions were on Pilis Street (now numbers 76, 29 and 35).

A. Vinogradov in his novel Three Colours of Time14 states that while in Vilnius, Stendhal stayed at an inn run by an Italian called Oliverio. It is clear from archival material that the latter was a French spy. And in his book Stendhal i ego vremia, Vinogradov writes that in Vilnius Stendhal entrusted either to the contrabandist or to a servant at the inn his fur coat into which was sewn the last of his money, and only later did he realize what he was missing. Stendhal's hero Fabrice, in "The Charterhouse of Parma," rambled about with money sewn into his coat lining during the Battle of Waterloo.

During his stay in Vilnius, Stendhal wrote a short letter to his sister Pauline. It is his only surviving communication from Lithuania:

Vilnius, December 7, 1812.

I am in good health, my dearest. I often thought of you on the long march from Moscow, which took fifty days. I have lost everything, and have only the clothes I am wearing. What is much better is that I am thin. I have had much physical hardship and no spiritual pleasure: but all that is done with, and I am ready to start again in the service of His Majesty.15

Greetings and signature follow: Serin, Captain. Such a signature is not surprising, since for the closing of his letters he would think up all sorts of names: General Cok, h, Henry, Ch. Chomette, Gèle, Du Boin...

From Vilnius, Stendhal moved to Kaunas, and from there to Gumbinen and Königsberg.

In his letter from Königsberg (December 28, 1812) where he stayed from December 14 to December 30, Stendhal told his sister that "generals, marshal commissaries perished" on the road from Vilnius. But from Stendhal himself we learn nothing more about it. We can easily get a clearer picture of that period from other escapees. A detailed picture of the withdrawal is given by Napoleon's Sergeant Bourgogne in his Memoirs.16 He describes how the French and the allies returned hungry, shivering with cold, ragged, without shelter from the snowstorms, and those who were no longer able to walk were left by the road to die. In one pit Bourgogne counted two hundred Frenchmen frozen to death or poisoned. When he himself stumbled into a frozen pit near Nemunas, in vain did he cry out for help to the passing soldiers. Only one old grenadier came near him, and he could not pull him out — he had no hands.

In Lithuania Stendhal had trouble with his relative Gaétan Gagnon who was in Russia as a temporary deputy commissary. In that same letter from Königsberg we read:

Once here, we found everybody arriving here except Gaétan. It seems that he fell ill before Vilnius. Here M. Daru told me that he found him in Vilnius completely dejected, grieving for his mother. M. Daru lent him some money, then his last horse and last pair of shoes, truly a nice gesture in these tumultuous times, when a horse means survival. I tried to clear up all those unfortunate circumstances; everybody regrets the fate of this pathetic young lad, but nobody adds any new facts to those given M. Daru by his servants who had last seen Gaétan a league from Kaunas. When all that was happening, I was already five or six leagues from there.17

Stendhal was afraid whether Gaétan who did not have the "necessary perseverance" had survived or whether he had been taken prisoner. In notes accompanying Stendhal's letters (Correspondance I) we read that Gaétan Gagnon (1793-1812) "disappeared in Russia." But from all particulars it seems that he remained close to those places where he was last seen by Pierre Daru's servants. Taken ill yet before Vilnius, grieving and exhausted, Gaétan probably ended his days in the environs of Kaunas.

Stendhal himself reached Gumbinen most probably by way of Virbalis. Such a route from Kaunas taken by the retreating Frenchmen is mentioned by Napoleon's lively Sergeant Bourgogne in his Memoirs.

Having stayed sixteen days in Königsberg, Stendhal left Lithuania by sledge on December 30, heading for Danzig.


The trip, through Lithuania and the country itself did not leave any more notable imprints in Stendhal's works. Perhaps most of the references are found in his letters. He does not mention Lithuania by name — only individual places — Vilnius, Kaunas, Marijampolë, Nemunas. He was a southerner by heart, and the land of his dreams was Italy.

Nevertheless, now and then in his thoughts and in his writings he returned to Lithuania.

In his book about Napoleon, whom he considered the greatest man since the days of Caesar, Stendhal mentions Kaunas, Vilnius, Nemunas, Tilsit, the "gallant Kosciuszko" who "tried in vain to defend his fatherland." Stendhal is more explicit about Poland's, and hence about Lithuania's, partition.

"Poland in its relations with Stockholm and Constantinople constructed a large rampart through Central Europe. Austria and Prussia were so foolish, and Louis XV so sluggish, that he contributed to the destruction of the only guarantee for his future security. Napoleon had to try to replace the other rampart."18 (p. 234).

In that same work the author thinks that the "War of 1812 was a natural consequence of the Treaty of Tilsit."18 (p. 231). According to Stendhal "the war against Russia was popular in France, because the weakness of Louis XV permitted Poland to be divided."18 (p. 231).

In his autobiographical novel, Vie de Henri Brulard, Stendhal again mentions Vilnius when describing himself: "In great dangers I am natural and simple... M. Daru, who disliked me, wrote the same to his wife, I believe, from Vilnius, after the retreat from Moscow."19

Standing on the banks of the Nemunas, he records his thoughts, in an unexpected work, The History of Painting in Italy. In the second volume, the author degresses at length about people's temperaments, of which, by referring to the authority of the physician George Cabanis, he enumerates six. Apparently, such were his predominant thoughts when he was watching Napoleon's army cross the Nemunas. We find this the chapter on the sanguine temperament:

This temperament is clearly more frequent in France. So I thought on the banks of the Nemunas, June 6, 1812, watching that countless army cross over the river, made up of so many nations and which had to undergo the most unforgettable defeat that history ever recorded. I was forced to have doubts when I saw gloomy future in the endless flatlands of Russia and also when I saw the venturous genius of our general. Exhausted from futile conjecturing, I turned to positive news, as if it were a shelter from all kinds of difficulties. All I had was the volume by Cabanis, and following his thoughts in the books, I glanced up for examples in the soldiers' faces. Singing, they passed near me and stopped at intervals when the bridge became congested.20

The picture might seem rather grandiose: a famous writer standing on the banks of the Nemunas, considering the ways of men and nations! Actually, it was otherwise. Napoleon's battalions crossed the Nemunas on June 24 and not on the 6th when Stendhal was still in France. In his book about Napoleon he gives the correct date. And if Stendhal actually did have such thoughts on the banks of the Nemunas, it must have been during the first half of August. Furthermore, that is not the first time that he confuses places and talks about them as if he had visited them, even though he had never seen them. For example, he describes Warsaw, Poznan, Paestum. In his book De l'Amour he describes having seen in 1807 a French colonel presenting himself to Madame Struve in Königsberg. Actually, that probably happened in Brunswick, where he was acquainted with such a woman.

De l'Amour has also one reference about Vilnius. Following the main text are a number of scattered fragments. Some of them include descriptions of the places where they were written. The fragment from Vilnius sounds like this:

"You talk to me of ambition for driving away boredom," used to say Kamensky: "but all the time I used to gallop a couple of leagues every evening, for the pleasure of seeing the Princes at Kolich; I was on intimate terms with a despot whom I respected, who had my whole fortune in his power and the satisfaction of all my desires."

Vilnius, 1812" 21

In 1810 Stendhal did indeed have a servant named Kamensky. Yet, the writing down of this romantic reverie in Vilnius, as V. del Litto points out, is just another of Stendhal's fantasies. In his autobiography (1837)22 Stendhal notes that he wrote De l'Amour in Milan. In the work, he fictitiously attributes the writing of some other fragments to such places as Orcha. Nevertheless, Stendhal thought in Vilnius about life in the army could have been true.

Sitting in the woods under a dead birch tree sixty leagues from Moscow, covered with dust and thirsty, on August 28, 1812, Stendhal remembered his dream of last night: to recapture the past in Italy as he had done for Paris. Afterwards, he makes the following remark beginning with his own words in English: "It is dominant idea since Vilnius, where I began to feel the misery of the army."23

From Vilnius, Stendhal left us another dismal picture, namely, in the book, Rome, Naples et Florence. The author, viewing the Alps from Milan, explains why Italy's mountains are dearer to him and why the Swiss Alps disgust him:

In Switzerland, by contrast, the mountains never fail to hint at the insignificance of man, to suggest the fate of some poor devil of a traveler swept into eternity by an avalanche. In all probability, such bleak forebodings are no more than my own personal reaction. The retreat from Moscow has left me plainly suspicious of the attributes of snow ; not on account of the dangers to which I was myself exposed, but as a result of the hideous sight of horror, suffering, and the extinction of pity. At Vilnius, breaches in the walls of the hospital were blocked with frozen portions of human corpses. This picture is never far from my memory; is it a wonder, then, that I have little pleasure in the prospect of snow?24

Neither did Stendhal forget the Nemunas. In his 1837 autobiography he writes about himself: "He took part in the campaign to Russia and was noted for his cool head; returning, he realized how terrible was that retreat. Five hundred fifty thousand men crossed over the Nemunas; fifty thousand returned, or perhaps twenty-five thousand."25

As we have seen, in December 1812, Stendhal spent more than two weeks in Königsberg, having had an opportunity to get acquainted with local life. In his works he talks about the people of Königsberg and their tendency to philosophize, about young Germans, about their upbringing in "pseudosystems of philosophy, which are merely obscure and badly written poetry."26 Further on, he makes some comments about the climate in Königsberg, the workers, the customs. About the people's disposition for the abstract he writes also in his book Rome, Naples et Florence: it seems that they gain pleasure from the arts through reasoning.

We must surmise that Stendhal hurried from Königsberg with the approach of the Cossacks. In order to be quicker, he rode down by sledge through the frozen Frisches Hoff. How he got along afterwards, we learn from Stendhal's first short autobiography, written in 1822. There he speaks of himself: "Near Königsberg, while he was escaping from the Cossacks, riding through the ice at Frisches Hoff, the ice gave way under the sledge...."27

The author, however, does not give any indication as to how, at a time of grave danger, he found himself there. So, in his thoughts and in his writings, Stendhal would wander to Lithuania from time to time. Furthermore, even that the North, which he disliked so strongly, must not always have seemed so repulsive, because at one time he had even thought of settling in Russia.

To the flatlands of the North (therefore perhaps also to some of his moments in Lithuania — Vilnius, Nemunas, the snow drifts in Sűduva) he returned also in the last days of his life. In the fourth preface of De l'Amour, finished a week and a half before his death, he talks again about the frightful retreat from Russia, about "the great man, who called forth a great nation," about the government, which under Napoleon "went forth to carry our name into all the capitals of Europe."28 Among them is also the Capital of Lithuania, Vilnius, where Stendhal in two instances had stopped.

(Translated from Lithuanian by M. Vasiliauskas)


1 Stendhal, Correspondance, I, Edition établie et annotée par Henri Martineu et V. del Litto, Paris, Gallimard, 1968, p. 356.
2 Dundulis, Bronius: Napoleon et la Lithuanie en 1812, Paris, Alcan, 1940.
3 Ibid., p. 649.
4 Ibid., p. 650-651. The translator used the translation of this quotation and footnotes No. 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 15 from the book To the Happy Few, selected letters of Stendhal, translated by Norman Cameron, New York, Grove Press, 1952.
5 Ibid., p. 652.
6 Vinogradov, Anatoli, Stendhal i ego vremia, Moscow, 1938, p.63.
7 Correspondance I, p. 824. The book was published in 1817.
8 Ibid., p. 657. A. Vinogradov states (Stendhal i ego vremia) that Stendhal "almost has been killed three times near Vilnius at Bojordoviske." p. 67.
9 Correspondance I, p. 666.
10 Ibid., p. 677.
11 Ibid., p. 674.
12 Ibid., pp. 688-689.
13 Ibid., p. 689. Henri Martineau states (Le Calendrier de Stendhal, Paris, Le Divan, 1950) that Stendhal left Vilnius on the 7th of December.
14 Vinogradovas, A., Trys laiko spalvos, Vilnius, 1958, p. 106.
15 Correspondance I, p. 688.
16 Sergent Bourgogne, Ses Mémoires, Paris, Editions de Saint-Clair, 1967.
17 Correspondance I, p. 689.
18 Stendhal, Napoléon, Paris, Champion, 1929.
19 Stendhal, Vie de Henri Brulard, Texte établi par Henri Martineau, Paris, Gamier, 1953, p. 286.
20 Stendhal, Histoire de la peinture en Italie, Texte établi et annotés par Paul Arbelet, Paris, Champion, 1924, chapter XCIII.
21 Stendhal, De l'Amour, textes présentés, établis et annotés par V. del Litto, Paris, 1970, p. 264.
22 Stendhal, Oeuvres intimes (Journal), texte établi et annoté par Henri Martineau, Paris, 1955.
23 Ibid., p. 1224.
24 Stendhal, Rome, Naples et Florence, Paris, Champion, 1919, p. 66.
25 Oeuvres intimes, p. 1532.
26 De l'Amour, p. 168.
27 Oeuvres intimes, p. 1522.
28. De l'Amour, p. 341.