The book before us gives pictures of Polish character and life on the eve of the second great siege of Vienna.
Twice was that city beleaguered by Turkey. The first siege was commanded by Solyman, that Sultan who was surnamed Magnificent by western nations; to Turks he was known as the Lord of his Age and the Lawgiver.
The first siege was repelled by the bravery of the garrison, by the heroism of Count Salm its commander, by the terrible weather of 1529, and also through turbulence of the Janissary forces. The second siege was crushed in 1683 by Sobieski's wise strategy, the splendid impetus of the Poles, and the firmness of the allies.
Had the Polish king not appeared the Sultan would have triumphed, hence Sobieski and his men are hailed ever since as the saviours of Vienna.
The enthusiasm of the time for Sobieski and his force was tremendous.
"There was a man sent from God whose name was John," this was the Gospel read at the Thanksgiving Mass in Saint Stephen's, the cathedral, the noble old church of that rescued and jubilant city. Some Poles went to Rome after that to get relics; the Pope gave this answer: "Take earth steeped in blood from the field where your countrymen fell at Vienna."
Many times have men here in America asked me: Are the Poles really held by such an intensity of passion? if they are, why does it seize them, whence does it come, what is the source and the cause of it? I reply to these questions as best I am able, and truthfully: It comes from the soul of the Slavs in some part, and in some part from history. The Poles have as a race their original gift to begin with; this gift, or race element, has met in its varied career certain peoples, ideas, and principles. The result of this meeting is this: that the Polish part of the Slav world holds touching itself an unconquerable ideal. It has absorbed, as it thinks, certain principles from which it could not now separate.
The Poles could not if they would, and would not if they could, be dissevered from that which, as they state, they have worked out in history, that which no power on earth can now take from them, and to which they are bound with the faith of a martyr.
Through ideas and principles, that is, truths gained in their experience as a people, and which in them are incarnate and living, the Poles feel predestined to triumph, time, of course, being given.
What are these ideas and principles? men ask of me often. Combined all in one they mean the victory and supremacy of Poland. They have been worked out during centuries, I answer, of Polish experience with Germany, with Russia, with Rome and Byzantium, with Turks and with Tartars. But beyond all do they come as the fruit of collisions with Germany and Russia, and as the outcome of teachings from Rome and the stern opposition of Byzantium. Through this great host of enemies and allies, and their own special character, came that incisive dramatic career which at last met a failure so crushingly manifest.
The inward result and the spiritual harvest to be reaped from this awful catastrophe are evident only through what is revealed in the conduct, the deeds, and the words of the people who had to wade through the dreadful defeat and digest the experience.
Polish character in most of its main traits was developed completely even earlier than the days of Sobieski, and the men who appeared then in action differ little from those of the present, hence the pictures in this volume are perfectly true and of far-reaching interest in our time.