"The Life History of Wacław Rzewuski" by Władysław Rybiński (part 1)
"I was young, handsome, bold and an excellent horseman; I also distinguished myself in battle winning high rank under enemy fire; my lively youthful imagination, nature’s and fate’s invention, did not present any of my plans as impossible. I was always drawn to extraordinary things."
This is a self-description of one of the greatest characters that lived on Polish soil in the first half of the 19th century, and at the same time one that is most clouded in mystery. Although the words appear vain, the one who said them had very good reasons to see himself in this way.
Wacław Rzewuski, a traveler, Arab scholar, horse lover and expert, soldier, draughtsman, cartographer and poet – a man of numerous talents. He made his name in history as the person who undertook the greatest Polish expedition to Arabia in the 19th century. Its purpose was to bring to Europe the best horses in the world, the legendary Arabians from the desert land of Najd. And this purpose was fulfilled – 137 pure blood stock came to Europe as a result of the Emir’s efforts.
Wacław Rzewuski was the son of one of the most eminent families in Poland. Three generations of Rzewuskis had held the position of Hetman [supreme military commander]. Their estates were enormous, the greatest treasure among them being the beautiful palace in Podhorce. The fortified Rzewuski family seat was a center famous throughout Poland, where theatre and music flourished under the generous patronage of the host, and a lively social life attracted guests from all over Europe.
In December 1784 the first and only son of Hetman Seweryn Rzewuski, Wacław, was born in Lvov, 80 km from Podhorce. He got his name after his grandfather, the Great Field Hetman.
The boy spent the first years of his life with his family in what is now Ukraine. He traveled around manor houses and palaces, played in the stables, listened to nostalgic Ukrainian songs, made mischief during balls and festivities. This Arcadian childhood came to a premature end when Wacław’s father, Seweryn Rzewuski, became involved in politics. He did not agree with the provisions of the 3 May Constitution, the inflated ambition of a great aristocrat prevented him from accepting hereditary monarchy in Poland and limits on the power of the Hetmans and the gentry. In 1792, along with other dissidents, he signed the Targowice Confederation. This was the beginning of the end of the Polish Republic. Russian troops invited by the confederates marched into Poland. In 1795 Poland disappeared completely from the political maps of the world, divided between Russia, Prussia and Austria.
Seweryn Rzewuski was considered one of the perpetrators of this state of affairs. Already in 1793, once the partition plans came to light, the Hetman left Poland and emigrated to Vienna.
Thus Vienna became the place where the future emir grew up. He was carefully educated by the best teachers, provided by his father to an only son. His uncle, the writer and traveler Jan Potocki, author of the “Manuscript found in Saragossa”, was a great influence. He inspired the boy with a passion for learning and for Oriental culture.