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Page:The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero) - Volume 4.djvu/240

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MAZEPPA.

and to conciliate the good will of the (regent) Tzarina Sophia and her eminent boyard, Prince Basil Golitsyn. A time came (1687) when it served the interests of Russia to degrade Samoilovitch, and raise Mazeppa to the post of hetman, and thenceforward, for twenty years and more, he held something like a regal sway over the whole of the Ukraine (a fertile "no-man's land," watered by the Dniéper and its tributaries), openly the loyal and zealous ally of his neighbour and suzerain, Peter the Great.

How far this allegiance was genuine, or whether a secret preference for Poland, the land of his adoption, or a long-concealed impatience of Muscovite suzerainty would in any case have urged him to revolt, must remain doubtful, but it is certain that the immediate cause of a final reversal of the allegiance and a break with the Tsar was a second and still more fateful affaire du cœur. The hetman was upwards of sixty years of age, but, even so, he fell in love with his god-daughter, Matréna, who, in spite of difference of age and ecclesiastical kinship, not only returned his love, but, to escape the upbraidings and persecution of her mother, took refuge under his roof. Mazeppa sent the girl back to her home, but, as his love-letters testify, continued to woo her with the tenderest and most passionate solicitings; and, although she finally yielded to force majeure and married another suitor, her parents nursed their revenge, and endeavoured to embroil the hetman with the Tsar. For a time their machinations failed, and Matréna's father, Kotchúbey, together with his friend Iskra, were executed with the Tsar's assent and approbation. Before long, however, Mazeppa, who had been for some time past in secret correspondence with the Swedes, signalized his defection from Peter by offering his services first to Stanislaus of Poland, and afterwards to Charles XII. of Sweden, who was meditating the invasion of Russia.

"Pultowa's day," July 8, 1709, was the last of Mazeppa's power and influence, and in the following year (March 31, 1710), "he died of old age, perhaps of a broken heart," at Várnitza, a village near Bender, on the Dniester, whither he had accompanied the vanquished and fugitive Charles.

Such was Mazeppa, a man destined to pass through the crowded scenes of history, and to take his stand among the greater heroes of romance. His deeds of daring, his intrigues and his treachery, have been and still are sung by the wandering minstrels of the Ukraine. His story has passed into literature. His ride forms the subject of an Orientale (1829) by Victor Hugo, who treats Byron's theme symbolically; and the romance of his old age, his love for his god-daughter