Thaddeus of Warsaw

by Jane Porter

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Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1848

First published: 1803

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Historical romance

Time of work: Late eighteenth century

Locale: Poland and England

Principal Characters:

Thaddeus Sobieski, a patriotic young Pole

Count Sobieski, his grandfather

General Kosciusko, a Polish leader

Pembroke Somerset, Thaddeus’ English friend

General Butzou, another Polish patriot

Mary Beaufort, Somerset’s cousin and later Thaddeus’ wife

The Story:

Thaddeus Sobieski was educated in the palace of Count Sobieski, his grandfather, an enlightened nobleman of Warsaw. On the evening of Thaddeus’ eighteenth birthday, his mother gave him a letter in which she revealed that his father, an Englishman, had deserted her in Italy before Thaddeus was born. The man’s name was Sackville. Thaddeus’ mother had returned to Poland, and her father maintained the fiction that she had married and had been widowed within two months. None knew of the deception except the king. At the end of the letter, Thaddeus’ mother begged him to be honorable always, for the sake of his grandfather and the illustrious Sobieski name.

In 1792, the Poles began a war of independence against Russia. Before Thaddeus and his grandfather set off to war, Thaddeus heard the story of how Count Sobieski and General Butzou had long ago saved the life of King Stanislaus of Poland. Both the knowledge of his own past and the story of his grandfather’s bravery helped to shape Thaddeus’ character into heroic mold.

Later, Thaddeus met General Kosciusko and was filled with hope for Poland. In one of the skirmishes with the enemy, Thaddeus displayed both bravery and intelligence. With dismay, he learned that the Poles were immediately to retreat, for they were outnumbered by the Russians. His grandfather was injured during the retreat but refused to let Thaddeus attend him. He ordered him to stay with the troops.

Thaddeus took an English prisoner, Pembroke Somerset, who had joined the Russian army for the sake of adventure. Somerset and Thaddeus became close friends. Thaddeus gained Somerset’s freedom, and when Thaddeus returned to his mother’s home, Somerset accompanied him.

The tremendous patriotism and the sense of honor existing in Thaddeus now transferred themselves to Somerset, who wrote in his letters to home of his great admiration of the Poles. At the insistence of his family, Somerset soon returned home to England.

Count Sobieski had greater cares, for Poland was falling under the Russian attack. When the Germans broke their treaties of assistance, the king decided that organized resistance was useless. He surrendered for his people. In Warsaw, the sons of the nobles vowed eternal resistance to the enemy, and Thaddeus was among those taking the sacred oath.

In November, 1793, Poland was shorn of her best lands, and her nobles were humbled. In the meantime, Thaddeus led troops into the south, where resistance continued. He managed to join with General Kosciusko and brought a measure of hope to the Poles.

Thaddeus managed to free his grandfather from a Russian prison. Later, Thaddeus led the other nobles in the surrender of all of his personal property for the continuation of the war. In a battle fought soon afterward, Thaddeus’ grandfather was killed. With his last breath, he made Thaddeus promise never to take any name other than Sobieski.

Devastation spread over Poland as the fighting continued. In one of the last campaigns of the war, Thaddeus found a moment to talk to his mother, who said she would not survive the destruction of Poland. She made him promise to go to England if Poland should fall. The Sobieski palace was burned to the ground. Along with General Butzou, Thaddeus watched as the towers of Villanow crumbled. Inside lay the dead body of his mother, who had died during the battle. Taking his farewell of the defeated king, Thaddeus left Poland forever.

True to his promise, he went to England. In London, he took lodgings under the name of Mr. Constantine and then became ill with a slow and disastrous fever that threatened his life. His landlady, Mrs. Robson, had become quite attached to him because of his gentle manners and deep courtesy, and she watched over him during his illness. When he recovered, he sold his jewelry to pay his bills. He also tried to sell some original drawings but was insulted by the merchant to whom he showed them, and he refused to do business with the man.

Mrs. Robson’s sick grandson died despite the care that Thaddeus gave the child. Dr. Vincent suspected that Thaddeus had a large fortune and sent a huge bill for his services. Thaddeus promised to raise the money for the medicine and for the burial, but he had not a shilling in his pocket. He was forced to sell more of his possessions.

Thaddeus tried unsuccessfully to contact Somerset. About the same time, he found General Butzou in the greatest distress of poverty and took him to his lodgings with Mrs. Robson. Thaddeus now began to earn enough for the expenses of himself and the penniless general by means of his drawings. Once he saw Pembroke Somerset on the street, but Somerset passed without noticing him.

One day, Thaddeus saved a woman, Lady Tinemouth, from ruffians in Hyde Park. Out of gratitude, Lady Tinemouth took Thaddeus in hand and found employment for him as a German tutor. At the same time, her friend, Lady Sara Ross, attempted to involve him in a love affair, but she found him indifferent.

The old general was going mad. The doctor whom Thaddeus called in was Dr. Cavendish, a good man who would not take the payment when he heard the cause of the old general’s illness.

Thaddeus went to the home of Lady Dundas, where he was to serve as a tutor. Lady Dundas proved to be a bore and her daughters ill-favored and ill-mannered. Attracted by Thaddeus’ noble appearance, the two girls, Diana and Euphemia, determined to study diligently. Euphemia Dundas and Lady Sara Ross pursued him.

A visitor in the Dundas household was Miss Mary Beaufort, a gentle girl who saw at once the noble nature of Thaddeus. She tried to ease the slights and rebuffs he received from the rich and vulgar Lady Dundas on the one hand and the embarrassing attentions of Euphemia Dundas on the other. In the meantime, Mary Beaufort occupied herself with trying to discover the true name of Mr. Constantine.

One day, Lady Tinemouth’s friends were discussing the tutor. One laughed at Euphemia for her interest in a man no better than a mere schoolmaster. Nevertheless, Mary Beaufort defended him. Lady Tinemouth remained silent, for to her alone Thaddeus had confessed his true identity. Shortly afterward, gossip caused Lady Tinemouth to receive unpleasant notice from her relatives that her attentions to Mr. Constantine were intolerable. Lady Tinemouth planned to leave London. In her letter announcing her departure, she told Thaddeus that Mary Beaufort was deeply interested in him.

When old General Butzou died, Thaddeus realized that one of Poland’s bravest sons was dead. To meet the death expenses, Thaddeus, who still had not received any payment from Lady Dundas, was forced to sell his last tokens. The same pawnbroker took them, but the amount gained was not enough to pay his debts, and Thaddeus was put in Newgate prison.

Hearing of his misfortune, Mary Beaufort searched out his apartment and learned from Mrs. Robson the story of his imprisonment. Mary’s plan to aid Thaddeus was interrupted by the arrival of Pembroke Somerset, her cousin, and by the betrayal of Euphemia. Euphemia declared that Thaddeus had made passionate love to her. Euphemia’s mother screamed for revenge and announced her intention of sending her daughter to Scotland.

Somerset, unaware that Mr. Constantine was really his old friend Thaddeus Sobieski, paid the debt of the tutor at Mary’s request, but he did not so much as look at Thaddeus.

When Thaddeus returned to his room, he discovered a note in which Lady Dundas called him a rogue. Before he could demand an explanation for the note, the whole group had left London. He then took a stage to the place where Lady Tinemouth had found refuge.

At Lady Tinemouth’s home, Thaddeus and Somerset met again. Somerset revealed that he actually had not seen Thaddeus on the occasion of their meeting on a London street.

This meeting also brought about a reunion between Thaddeus and Mary Beaufort. A more surprising revelation was the discovery that Somerset’s father was the same Sackville who was the father of Thaddeus. To right the old wrong, Thaddeus was given a large inheritance from the Somerset estate. With this fortune, he married Mary Beaufort and spent the rest of his days happily with his wife and the half brother whom he had found after many strange adventures.

Critical Evaluation:

Political refugees and their woes are a familiar literary subject, and Poland has had more than its share of exiles to contribute to fiction dealing with them. Eight years before writing THADDEUS OF WARSAW, Jane Porter saw Polish refugees walking through London’s Saint James Park. Struck by their tragic appearance, she met many of them and studied Polish history. After living among the models of her tale, she sought to portray what she felt every Christian should know. She wrote her novel in admiration of King John Sobieski of Poland (1624-1696) and created noble characters who were impervious to narrow, personal ambitions: “characters that prosperity could not inflate nor disappointment depress.” She later added that she had dipped her pen into their tears.

Poland’s fight against combined aggression from Europe’s three most powerful states is one theme of the novel. Another concerns Poland’s effort to maintain her own laws and what Porter claimed was a way of life so unique as to be previously unknown in world history, one representing a domestic vitality and sense of integral being comparable to biblical Israel. She describes such places as the University of Vilna and the other provincial colleges built in Old Poland and relates how King John Sobieski had torn down peasant hovels and built decent homes instead.

Porter felt that what had flattered Alexander the Great into a madman and Julius Caesar into a usurper had left her Christian heroes, the Sobieskis, intact in virtue. When ensconced at the pinnacle of Polish power, the Sobieskis had not been puffed with pride, and when their souls were later pierced by sorrow and defeat, they never murmured. Thaddeus Sobieski is an authentically drawn nobleman of his time, motivated by the same noblesse oblige as had been his grandfather. Such noblemen were once a cultural factor in Europe, but they have almost vanished from the pages of modern literature, wherein a more common figure is the degenerate nobleman and antihero.

In her 1843 revision of the work, referring to her fictional creation, Thaddeus, and his models in real life, Porter wrote that virtue’s sunbeam had never dimmed its full ray in their chivalric hearts. Honor is a primary moving force in Porter’s story of eighteenth century Poland.

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