By Maurice Paléologue
JANUARY 27-FEBRUARY 24, 1916.
The Russian General Staff draws up a scheme for a military convention with Rumania.---State meeting between the Emperor William and the Tsar Ferdinand at Nish; a reference to Versailles; infamy of the Bulgarian sovereign.---The Russians greatly affected by oratory; their imagination riots in vague perspectives.---Retirement of the President of the Council Goremyldn; his place is taken by Sturmer; dismissal of the Minister of the Interior, Khvostov; Rasputin's influence in these decisions.---Antecedents and character of Sturmer; his close colleague, Manuilov.---Rasputin and the monk, Heliodorus; an Okhrana melodrama.---The romance of the Grand Duke Michael, the Emperor's brother; the Countess Brassov.---The Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna dines at the embassy; her opinion of the Emperor and Empress.---The great problems of domestic politics: the agrarian and labour problems.---Miserable condition of the Russian peasants.---Definition of imperial autocracy.---Instability of the Russian character: the sudden volte face.---Reopening of the Duma. A theatrical stroke: the Emperor goes to the Tauride Palace. Great effect of this demonstration.
Thursday, January 27, 1916.
After examining the various ways in which Russia can help Rumania, if occasion arises, General Alexeïev has come to the following conclusions:
(1) A Russian. army of ten divisions could be told off to support Rumania.
(2) The distance, transport difficulties and the state of the Rumanian railways are objections to the plan of sending that army to the Danube, especially the region which is most threatened by the Bulgarians, i.e., south of Bucharest.
(3) This army should be concentrated in Northern Moldavia, in a position to menace the right flank of the Austro-German armies; the concentration could be carried out very speedily.
(4) A vigorous offensive in a north-westerly direction would be opened at once, in conjunction with the operations in progress on the general front.
(5) The Rumanian army could thus employ all its forces in repelling the attack of the Bulgarians on the south, and covering the frontier on the Transylvanian side.
(6) An officer of the Rumanian General Staff should be sent with all haste to the headquarters of the Russian armies to settle the terms of a military convention.
Friday, January 28, 1916.
Ferdinand of Coburg, Tsar of Bulgaria, has just surpassed even his own record in baseness. Qualis artifex!
Ten days ago the Emperor William went to Nish, where Tsar Ferdinand gave him a State luncheon. The meeting was certainly very impressive, and the choice of Nish, "the birthplace of Constantine the Great," added greatly to its historical significance. So I am not surprised that Ferdinand, who is very much impressed by the traditions of the past and the pageant side of history, indulged his diseased pride to the full.
But I have many a time heard this monarch boast of being the grandson of Louise-Philippe and the direct descendant of St. Louis, Henry IV and Louis XIV; could he not have done his political and national duty to the full without insulting the country of his fathers? This is how his toast began
To-day is a day of high historical significance. Two hundred and fifteen years ago the mighty hand of Frederick I, your great ancestor, placed the royal crown of Prussia on his head. On January 18, 1871, under Your Majesty's grandfather, the new German Empire was born. William the Great renewed the glory of Imperial Germany at Versailles. To-day, January 18, 1916, his glorious nephew, whose strong will has vanquished all obstacles, is passing through the north-western portion of the Balkan Peninsula, formerly inhabited by the Serbs, and has victoriously entered the "castrum Romanorum " of Nissa.
What would his mother, Princess Clementina, his noble uncles, Nemours, Joinville, d'Aumale, Montpensier, think if they could have heard him, in the presence of a Teutonic emperor, recall the most painful memory in the history of France---the proclamation of the German Empire at Versailles---and take delight in such a reminiscence while French territory is invaded and German armies are twenty leagues from Paris?
Nothing he can do in the way of treachery and apostacy will ever astonish me, so this gratuitous insult to France does not surprise me. But I am a little taken aback at his mentioning Versailles. Failing dignity and delicacy, I have always credited him with taste. Now no one has ever been more under the spell of Versailles than he. Every time he stayed in France he paid it long visits. Any number of times he talked to me about it with an admiration which was equally intelligent and enthusiastic, and a most apt feeling for art and poetry!
Probably with his eye on the annalists and epigraphists of the future, the Bulgarian dynast concluded his toast with the following phrase, in a highly lapidary Latin:
Ave. Imperator, Cæsar et Rex, victor et gloriose. Ex Naïssa antiqua, omnes Orientis populi te salutant, redemptorem, ferentem oppressis prosperitatem atque salutem. Vivas !
As Ferdinand is now so anxious to collect the materials for his statue and fame, I feel it incumbent on me not to leave his biographers in ignorance of certain documents which throw a startling light on the beauty of his soul. We have just seen how chivalrous he is in the hour of triumph; we shall now see to what heights of courage, dignity and self-sacrifice he can rise in the hour of disaster.
It was the month of July, 1913. The second Balkan War, kindled by the insane ambition of the Coburg, was ending in a terrible disaster. The Bulgarian army had finally lost all the fruits of its earlier victories, and was performing prodigies of valour to save at least the national independence. Faced with a catastrophe as overwhelming as unanticipated, the energies of the nation were taxed to the very limit. In this solemn hour, what was the moral attitude of the King? No doubt his heart beat with his people's heart---a fierce, intense, regular beat. . . .
Does anyone think so who knows him ?
The documents to which I refer (they bear his signature) reveal him, on the contrary, as smitten with terror, crushed by his responsibility, trembling for his life, casting the burden of his mistakes on to the shoulders of his statesmen, generals, diplomats and all who had failed to realize the genius of his grandiose ideas; then suddenly trying to fly, "secretly getting his luggage ready for an escape to his dear Carpathians," and ultimately vomiting forth all the abuse of which his pompous and decrepit nature is capable. These incredible documents also reveal the hand of an artist. The jerky and abrupt style, and the aggressive and flaunting vigour of their similes, remind me of Shakespeare and Saint-Simon, but for all that they are extremely repulsive. . . .
Yet who can say that history's last word on Ferdinand of Coburg will not be an expression of pity? This man has his hour of triumph to-day. But what will be his end? With the melancholy hero of As You Like It, I can say:
Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history
Sunday, January 30, 1916.
The army of the Grand Duke Nicholas Nicolaïevitch is doing wonders in Northern Armenia. Across a chaos of rugged and icebound mountains it is driving the Turks before it, and swiftly approaching Erzerum.
Monday, January 31, 1916.
At no time, and in no country, has freedom of speech been suppressed as it has been, and is, in Russia. No doubt in the last twenty years the police has been slightly less strict with the Press, but it has maintained all its traditions of ruthless severity in dealing with street oratory, public meetings and speeches. From its own point of view, it is right: the Russians are affected infinitely more by the spoken than the written word. To begin with, they are an imaginative race, and consequently always desire to hear and see those who speak to them. In the second place, nine-tenths of the population cannot read. Lastly, the long winter nights and the debates of the mir have trained the moujik for centuries to verbal improvisation.
Every winter, for five to seven months, according to the region, work in the fields is entirely suspended. The peasants are cooped up in their isbas and their sleep is broken only by interminable arguments. The deliberations of the mir---the rural community in which the allocation and exploitation of the communal property, ploughland, pasturage, rivers, ponds, etc., is settled---give the moujik plenty of opportunities of letting himself go. This accounts for the preponderating part played in all agrarian troubles by the orators of the peasant assemblies. This phenomenon was observed in Pugatchev's time; it reappeared in the long series of local risings which preceded the abolition of serfdom; it was last seen at work, in the most tragic form, during the troubles of 1905. It will be observed again, particularly as the rural masses are rapidly tending to coalesce with the socialist and revolutionary proletariat.
Tuesday, February 1, 1916.
The Russians are often blamed for their lack of forethought. No doubt they are constantly being surprised by the consequences of their actions, and are in the habit of plunging into impasses, and knocking their heads against the hard logic of events. At the same time it cannot be said that they are indifferent to the future: they think about it a good deal, but without foreseeing it, because they do not see it. Their imagination is so fashioned that it never fills in, or fixes the outlines; it likes nothing but distant and fleeting horizons, diffuse, nebulous and vague perspectives. Whether present or future, reality appears to them only through the visions of dreams. Here again I trace the influence of climate and geography. When you are sleigh-driving over the steppe, and the snow makes a thick veil all round you, how can you help constantly losing your way? You cannot distinguish anything in front of you.
Wednesday, February 2, 1916.
Goremykin, the President of the Council, has been relieved of his functions for reasons of health, and his place has been taken by Boris Vladimirovitch Sturmer, member of the Council of Empire, ex-Master of the Ceremonies and Governor of Yaroslavl, etc.
Goremykin is undoubtedly enfeebled by age (he is eighty-seven), and if his powers of observation, criticism and judgment are intact, he is woefully lacking in authority and energy. He would certainly have been incapable of facing the debates in the Duma, which meets shortly and is determined to take him to task personally for his reactionary policy.
I shall miss the sceptical and cynical old man. In his heart of hearts he must have but little sympathy with the system of alliances and this close and prolonged association between Russia and the democratic powers of the West. judging by the subtle questions he would sometimes put to me without seeming to touch on the subject, I gather that he had no exaggerated idea of the resources of his country, the exhaustion of our enemies or the probable fruits of victory; but he did not draw any practical conclusion, and I have never heard of his offering even the slightest opposition to the loyal work of the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Hence the fact that Sazonov, who seriously disagreed with Goremykin on the question of domestic policy, seemed to be very annoyed over his retirement this morning. After paying Sturmer some commonplace and purely official compliments, he laid stress on the principle which in Russia makes the direction of foreign policy the exclusive business of the Minister for Foreign Affairs. In a somewhat dry tone he concluded:
"The Minister for Foreign Affairs is responsible to the Emperor alone; diplomatic questions are never discussed by the Council of Ministers, and the President of the Council knows nothing whatever about them."
I asked him, with a smile:
"Then why have you a seat in the Council of Ministers?"
"To give my views on matters which must legally be decided by the Council, in other words matters common to several ministries, and matters referred to it by the Emperor for special decision---never on matters connected with war and diplomacy."
I endeavoured to get out of him rather more detailed information about Sturmer, but he evaded my question by showing me a telegram he received from Bucharest this morning.
"Bratiano," he said, "seems satisfied with the communication Poklevski made to him in the name of General Alexeïev, which he regards as providing a satisfactory basis for negotiation. But he has declined to send a Rumanian officer to the Russian General Headquarters, for fear that Germany may get wind of it. He wants the conversations to begin at Bucharest, with our military attaché. In his heart of hearts he is anxious to conduct the negotiations in person. But I'm afraid that to him it means a method of dragging the business out as long as possible."
Thursday, February 3, 1916.
Whilst the President of the Council, Goremykin, has retired, the Minister of the Interior, Alexis Nicolaïevitch Khvostov, has been dismissed. Sturmer succeeds to the places of both.
Khvostov's downfall is a straight right from Rasputin. For some time there has been a duel to the death between these two. The wildest and most absurd stories are going round on the subject; notably a story that Khvostov wanted to have Grishka murdered by an agent who is absolutely devoted to him, Boris Rievsky, in complicity with Rasputin's former friend---and now worst enemy---the monk, Heliodorus, who is living in Christiania for the time being; but the Director of the Police Department, Bieletsky, a creature of Rasputin's, is said to have discovered proofs of the plot, and immediately handed them over to the Empress. Hence the sudden dismissal of the minister.
Saturday, February 5, 1916.
For the last three days I have been gathering information from all quarters about the new President of the Council, and I have no reason to congratulate myself on what I have ascertained.
He is sixty-seven, and worse than a mediocrity---third-rate intellect, mean spirit, low character, doubtful honesty, no experience, and no idea of State business. The most that can be said is that he has a rather pretty talent for cunning and flattery.
His family origins are German, as would appear from his name; he is the grand-nephew of Baron Sturmer, who was Austrian government commissioner on Napoleon's guard at St. Helena.
Neither his personal qualifications nor his administrative record and social position marked him out as fitted for the high office which has just been entrusted to him, to the astonishment of everyone. But his appointment becomes intelligible on the supposition that he has been selected solely as a tool; in other words, actually on account of his insignificance and servility. This choice has been inspired by the Empress's camarilla, and warmly recommended to the Emperor by Rasputin, with whom Sturmer is on the most intimate terms. All this means pleasant times ahead!
Sunday, February 6, 1916.
Colonel Tatarinov, Military Attaché at Bucharest, is leaving Petrograd to-morrow to return to his post.
The discussions he has recently had with the Chief of the General Staff and the Minister for Foreign Affairs will enable him to tell the Rumanian General Staff exactly what steps Russia would be in a position to take in the way of assistance to Rumania, if occasion arose.
As regards the conclusion of a military convention, which is essentially a governmental act, it is vital that Bratiano should expressly declare his readiness to negotiate it, as Sazonov suggested.
But, hitherto, the Rumanian Minister in Petrograd, who is the necessary official interpreter of his Government to the Russian Government, has received no instructions. Questioned by Sazonov as to Bratiano's intentions, he had to reply:
"I haven't the slightest idea. . ."
Monday, February 7, 1916.
As Director of his Secretariat Sturmer has selected Manassievitch Manuilov. This choice, which is regarded as scandalous, is significant.
I know Manuilov slightly, an acquaintance which sorely grieves honest Sazonov. But have I the right to ignore the head of the news service of the Novoye Vremia, the most important paper in Russia? In any case, our acquaintance dates from before my ambassadorship. I met him in Paris in the old days, somewhere about 1900. when he was working as an agent of the Okhrana, under the orders of Ratchkovsky, the famous head of the Russian police in France.
He is an extremely curious person. A Jew by origin, with a quick and crooked mind and a strong taste for high life, pleasure and objets d'art, but without scruples of any sort,, he is agent-provocateur, spy, sharper, swindler, cheat, forger and rake in one, a singular mixture of Panurge, Gil Blas, Casanova, Robert Macaire and Vidocq: "And yet the best son on earth."
During recent years he has contributed to several fine exploits of the Okhrana, as this moral outlaw dearly loves adventure and is not destitute of courage. In January, 1905, he and Father Gapon were the chief instigators of the demonstration of workmen which provided the authorities with the pretext for bloody reprisals in Winter Palace Square. A few months later his hand can be traced in the preparations for the pogroms which devastated the Jewish quarters of Kiev, Alexandrovsk and Odessa. He it was, too, who in April, 1906, is said to have undertaken the murder of Gapon, whose indiscreet chatter was beginning to compromise the Okhrana.
Of late, he has succeeded in getting into the good graces of the Empress---a reward for his many services to Rasputin.
Plenty of claims to the confidence of Sturmer!
Tuesday, February 8, 1916.
Manuilov, in a beautiful tight-fitting frock-coat, with well-oiled hair and proud bearing, has called upon me. A haughty smile wreathed his knavish countenance. I received him with all the deference due to his new dignity.
He talked about his duties as Sturmer's right-hand man and condescendingly enumerated his functions to make me realize their importance---which is real enough. Puffing himself out, he produced the following aphorism:
"In an autocratic empire of one hundred and eighty million inhabitants, the Director of the Secretariat of the President of the Council, Minister of the Interior, is necessarily an important man."
Then he began an emphatic eulogy of his master.
"M. Sturmer," he said, "is a great mind: he has the makings of a great statesman; I put him yards above your Goremykins and Sazonovs; he's going to return to the tradition of Nesselrode and Gortchakov at last. . . . You may be quite sure, Ambassador, that he'll leave a name in history!"
To let him know that I was not entirely taken in by his panegyric, I broke in:
"There are many ways of leaving a name in history!"
"Of course! But M. Sturmer's will be the right way.... You'll have no doubt when you know the President of the Council a little better. That will be soon, as he is very anxious to establish relations with Your Excellency; he very much hopes that those relations will become quite close and cordial. Need I say how much I hope so myself?"
After these effusions he rose. As I was taking him to the door I suddenly rediscovered the Manuilov of old. He stopped, and whispered:
"If you want anything, Excellency, no matter what, just let me know. M. Sturmer has absolute confidence in me, and will never refuse me anything.... So, at your service!"
It will be long before I forget the look on his face at that moment; a look that was cunning, hard, cynical and sly. The whole scandal of the Okhrana was before me....
Wednesday, February 9, 1916.
I will give an accurate record of the mysterious happenings which recently led to the dismissal of the Minister of the Interior, Alexis Khvostov: they throw a melancholy light on the inner workings of the regime.
When Alexis Khvostov received the portfolio of the Interior last October, his appointment was not only suggested to the Emperor but actually forced on him by Rasputin and Madame Vyrubova. The high-life crook who calls himself Prince Andronnikov, and is the bosom friend of the staretz, his usual broker and chief go-between, played a very active part in the affair. The selection of Khvostov was thus a success for the Empress's camarilla.
But before long there was a personal feud between the new minister and his assistant, the crafty Director of the Police Department, Bieletzky. In this atmosphere of low intrigue, jealous competition and secret rivalry, distrust was mutual and there were continual disputes. Khvostov thus gradually found himself at loggerheads with the whole gang which had raised him to power. Feeling himself lost, he secretly changed his tactics, and as the chief ingredients of his ambition are cynicism, audacity and pride, he at once discovered what a splendid, patriotic figure he could cut by delivering Russia from Rasputin.
He had just heard that the monk Heliodorus, once notorious for his intimate association with the staretz, subsequently his mortal enemy and now obliged to live in exile at Christiania, had written a book full of scandalous revelations about his relations with the Court and Grishka.
Khvostov immediately tried to get hold of the manuscript, which he hoped to find a mighty weapon wherewith to compel the Emperor to get rid of Rasputin, and perhaps repudiate the Empress. But as he distrusted, and very properly, his official police, he was anxious to keep the Okhrana in ignorance of the affair, and therefore sent to Christiania one of his personal agents, Boris Rievsky, a doubtful journalist who had already served several sentences. While the latter was endeavouring to reach Norway through Finland, his wife, left behind in Petrograd and awaiting her revenge for his ill-treatment, denounced the whole plot to Rasputin, who immediately called in the help of his friend. Bieletzky. This high official has every qualification for his office, being resourceful and astute, entirely unscrupulous, recognizing no principle but political expediency. and capable of anything to preserve the favour of his sovereign.
With his usual swift resolution he decided at once to set a trap for his minister. It was a delicate operation, and he entrusted it to one of his best servants, a colonel of gendarmerie named Tufaïev, who was on duty at Bielo-Ostrov on the Finnish frontier. When the train arrived in this station, Boris Rievsky rushed to the refreshment room. Colonel Tufaïev stood in his way, pretended to be pushed aside, and, as if losing his balance, stamped on his foot. Rievsky roared with pain, and the officer pretended to take his shout for an insult. Two gendarmes, posted handy, seized him and took him to the police office. He was asked for his papers, then searched. At first he said that he was travelling under orders from the Minister of the Interior, and with an object for which he was responsible to His Excellency alone. The officials affected not to believe him, and pressed him with insidious questions---the Okhrana knows how to press those who fall into its clutches. He was exhaustively "pumped." Thoroughly frightened, but soon guessing what was wanted, he ultimately confessed that he had been commissioned by Khvostov to arrange the murder of Rasputin with Heliodorus. An official report of his confession was drawn up, and sent to the Chief of Police, who took it at once to Tsarskoïe-Selo. Next morning Khvostov was no longer a minister.
Thursday, February 10, 1916.
Walking in the Liteiny about four o'clock, I called on Soloviev, the dealer in rare books and old prints. As I was examining several fine eighteenth-century French editions in the back of his empty shop, I saw a slender young woman of about thirty come in and take a seat at a table on which an album of prints was laid out.
She was a delight to watch. Her whole style revealed a quiet, personal and refined taste. Her chinchilla coat, open at the neck, gave a glimpse of a dress of silver grey taffeta, with trimmings of lace. A light fur cap blended with her glistening fair hair. Her pure and aristocratic face is charmingly modelled, and she has light, velvety eyes. Round her neck a string of superb pearls sparkled in the light, which had just been turned up. She gave each print the most careful scrutiny, which occasionally made her blink and bend her neck. Every now and then she turned to a stool on her right, on which another album had been placed. There was a dignified, sinuous and soft gracefulness about her every movement.
When I came out of the shop, I noticed a very smart car at the kerb behind mine. My groom, who knows everything, asks me:
"Didn't Your Excellency recognize that lady?
"No. Who is she?"
"The Countess Brassov, wife of His Imperial Highness the Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovitch."
I had had no chance of meeting her before, as she lived abroad before the war, and has since lived at Gatchina practically continuously.
Her story, which caused such a scandal, is commonplace enough.
Daughter of a Moscow lawyer and a Polish lady, young Nathalie Sergueievna Cheremetevsky married a merchant of that city, Mamantov, in 1902. She divorced him three years later, and then married an officer in the Guard, Captain Wulfert. The Regiment of Cuirassiers (Blue), in which her second husband was serving, was commanded by the Grand Duke Michael, the Emperor's brother. She at once became his mistress, in the fullest sense of the word, as henceforth he only existed through her.
He had always been the feeblest of men; a weak character and weak-minded, but kindly, unassuming and affectionate. A few years previously he had fallen in love with a maid-of-honour to his sister, the Grand Duchess Olga, Mlle. Kossikovsky, whose head he had easily turned by a promise of marriage. But when he had to broach the subject to his formidable mother, the Empress Marie, she had raged furiously, and overwhelmed him with scorn and reproach. The idyll got no further.
Madame von Wulfert, who was clever as well as astute and tenacious, conducted her affairs with superb skill. First she divorced von Wulfert. Next she had a child. Then---notwithstanding the express command of the Emperor---the Grand Duke publicly announced his intention of marrying her.
In July, 1913, the two lovers took up their residence in Berchtesgaden, on the border of Upper Bavaria and the Tyrol. One morning they unexpectedly left for Vienna, whither a confidante had preceded them. At that time the Serbian Government maintained an orthodox church in the Austrian capital for the benefit of their nationals. For a thousand crowns the priest consented to the celebration of a hasty and clandestine marriage.
When he returned to Berchtesgaden, the Grand Duke informed the Emperor. Nicholas II's anger was terrible. In an official manifesto he deprived his brother of the right of regency he had conferred upon him at the time of the Tsarevitch's birth. By an ukase, registered in the Senate, he put him under tutelage, as if he were a minor or a lunatic. He was also forbidden to reside in the empire.
But of course he could not help having to accept certain consequences of the fait accompli; for instance, a name had to be found for her who in the sight of God was now the wife of the Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovitch. As the marriage was simply morganatic. and left her only on the doorstep of the imperial family, she could not claim the august name of Romanov, so she took the title of "Countess Brassov." from one of the Grand Duke's properties. The Emperor even consented to sanction the title of Count Brassov for his brother's son.
In their gilded exile the young couple enjoyed a very pleasant existence, dividing their time between Paris, London, the Engadine and Cannes. Thus everything turned out exactly as Nathalie Sergueïevna desired.
When the war broke out, the pair obtained permission to return to Russia, and the Grand Duke received the command of a Cossack brigade. He fought very bravely, but his health, which had always been poor, quickly suffered, so that he had to exchange his command in the field for some nebulous inspectorship which allowed him to live either at Gatchina or Petrograd.
It is said that Countess Brassov is working to secure him his revenge in another field. Ambitious, clever and utterly unscrupulous, she has been parading very strong liberal opinions for some time. Her circle, quite small though it is, is frequently open to deputies of the Left. In Court quarters she has already been accused of betraying tsarism---a fact which pleases her immensely, as it makes her views notorious, and lays the foundations of her popularity. She becomes more independent every day, and says the most audacious things---things which in the mouth of any other would mean twenty years of Siberia! . . .
Sunday. February 13, 1916.
Sturmer's growing and open favour with the Empress, and the confidence reposed in him by the Emperor, are producing a lively agitation in the bosom of the Holy Synod. The whole Rasputin gang rejoices exceedingly. The metropolitan, Pitirim, and Bishops Varnava and Isidore are already feeling themselves masters of the ecclesiastical hierarchy; they are announcing for the near future a radical purification of the higher clergy---in other words, the elimination of all the prelates, abbots and archimandrites who still refuse to bow the knee to the erotomaniac-mystic of Pokrovskoïe because they regard him as the Antichrist. Lists of ecclesiastics who have been degraded or dismissed have been out several days, and even lists of those exiled to monasteries in the depths of Siberia, from which there is no return.
There are loud hosannahs, too, among "the Mothers of the Church," Countess Ignatiev and Madame Golovin!
The ex-minister Krivoshein, stricken and sick at heart, said to me yesterday:
"It's horrible to think what is happening and in store for us. The Holy Synod has never sunk so low before! If they wanted to destroy all respect for religion and religious feelings, this is just the way to do it. What'll be left of the orthodox Church before long? When tsarism is in danger and seeks its support, it'll find nothing left.... I begin to think Rasputin is Antichrist myself!"
Tuesday, February 15, 1916.
A few days ago the Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna let me know that she would like to come and dine "privately" at the embassy; I asked her for this evening. Around her I gathered M. and Madame Sazonov, Sir George and Lady Georgina Buchanan, General Nicolaïev, Prince Constantine Radziwill, Lady Sybil Grey, Dimitry Benckendorff, the Comte de Saint-Sauveur and my staff.
As the rites of the Imperial Court decreed, I met the Grand Duchess at the foot of the staircase. As we were going up, she said to me:
"I'm glad to be in the French Embassy, on real French territory. It's a long time since I was first taught to love France, and since then I've always believed in her. . . . And now it's not merely a feeling of friendship I have for your country, but still more of admiration and reverence."
After a few words with the other guests, we went into the dining-room. The Grand Duchess whispered in a kindly tone, as she pressed my arm: "I'm most grateful for your finding me such good company. I feel I can really say what I think to Sazonov, Buchanan and you. And I do so want to say what I think! . . . I'm sure I'm going to have a delightful evening."
At table we skimmed over various current topics, with the exception of politics. Then the Grand Duchess told me of her war work, which has no end: hospitals, ambulance trains, establishments for refugees, professional schools for the blind and disabled, etc.; to all this she brings as much enthusiasm as intelligence and sympathy. She then told me of a scheme she had in mind as President of the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts:
"Immediately after the war I should like to organize an exhibition of Russian art in Paris. In our churches we have unsuspected treasures of painting and goldsmiths' work; I could show you ikons from the Middle Ages which are as beautiful and touching as Giotto's frescoes. We would also show the decorative work of our peasants, those Kustarni vechtchi, which reveal such original and varied tastes in our people. For the moment I'm keeping my idea to myself; in any case it's not the right time. But it will not be long before I let the public know.
"Evil tongues will not fail to say that it is premature., but at any rate it will prove that I have no doubt about our victory."
After dinner she had a long aside with Buchanan; and then she beckoned to Sazonov, who came and sat down beside her.
Sazonov likes the Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna, and has a high regard for her; he thinks her capable of courage, nobility of mind and judgment; he says she has never had a chance to show what she can do; he ascribes her failing---levity---to the minor parts she has always been given. One day he actually said to me: "She's the woman we ought to have had as empress! Possibly she'd have made a poor start, but she'd soon have taken to her task, thoroughly realized its obligations and gradually become perfect at it."
From a distance I watched them talking. She was listening with the closest attention, relieved occasionally by a forced smile. But Sazonov, who is highly strung and very frank and sincere in speech, knows nothing of the art of controlling one's expression and gestures, so that, merely from the brightness of his eyes, the contractions of his features, and the tapping of his fingers on his knees, I could guess that he was pouring out all the bitterness of his heart to the Grand Duchess.
Whilst he was giving place to Lady Georgina Buchanan, a singer from the Théâtre Lyrique, Mlle. Bryan, was brought in. She has a very pure soprano of the most delicious timbre, and sang us songs by Balakirev, Massenet, Fauré and Debussy. Between the items there was lively conversation round the Grand Duchess.
As tea was being served I went up to Her Imperial Highness, who made the excuse that she wanted to admire the embassy Gobelins, and asked me to take her through the rooms. In front of the Triumph of Mardocheus, one of De Troy's most bewitching works, she stopped:
"Shall we sit down she said sadly. "What Sazonov has just been telling me is deplorable; the Empress is mad, and the Emperor blind; they don't see where they are going, and they don't want to."
"Is there no means of opening their eyes?"
"What about the Dowager Empress?"
"I spent two hours with Marie Feodorovna the other day. All we could do was grieve together."
"Why doesn't she speak to the Emperor?"
It's not want of courage or inclination that keeps her back. But it's better that she shouldn't. She's too outspoken and impetuous. The moment she begins to lecture her son, her feelings run away with her she sometimes says the exact opposite of what she should; she annoys and humiliates him. Then he stands on his dignity and reminds his mother that he is the Emperor. They leave each other in a rage."
"So Rasputin is still triumphant?"
"More than ever."
"Do you think the Alliance is in danger, Madame?"
"Oh, no! The Emperor will always be faithful to the Alliance, I'll promise you that; but I'm afraid we have great internal difficulties ahead of us, and our military activities will necessarily feel the effect."
"Which means that Russia, without actually repudiating her signature, will not do her whole duty as an ally. In that case what can she hope for from this war? The terms of peace must inevitably depend upon the military results. If the Russian armies do not continue their effort with the greatest vigour to the very end, the enormous sacrifices accepted by the Russian nation during the last twenty months will have been absolutely thrown away. Not only will Russia not get Constantinople, but she will lose Poland and possibly other territories as well."
"That's what Sazonov was telling me just now."
"How did you find him personally?"
Gloomy, preoccupied and very worried over the opposition he is getting from some of his colleagues. But, thank God, he showed no signs of discouragement. On the contrary, he is as enthusiastic and resolute as ever."
"His is a warm heart and a noble character."
"In return I can assure you that he is very fond of Buchanan and yourself. He gets on so well with you two! . . . But it's getting late, mon cher Ambassadeur, I must take my leave of you and your guests."
After the good-nights, I gave her my arm to take her to the porch. As we descended the stairs, she lingered to say:
"We're obviously approaching a stage which will be unpleasant, and even dangerous; I've seen it coming for a long time. I haven't much influence, and for several reasons I have to be extremely discreet. But I see many people who know and some others who occasionally are in a position to find out. Within those limits I'll give you all the help in my power. Make use of me."
"I'm extremely grateful to Your Imperial Highness."
Wednesday, February 16, 1916.
Among all the problems of domestic politics facing Russian statesmen there may be some more pressing, but there are none more complex or grave, than the agrarian and labour problem. Quite lately I have had a chance of discussing them with individuals of very varied opinions and station---Krivoshein, the ex-Minister for Agriculture, Kokovtsov, the ex-President of the Council and Minister of Finance, Count Alexis Bobrinsky, the great landed proprietor, Rodzianko, the President of the Duma, Putilov, the great metallurgist and financier, Shingarev, the "Cadet " deputy, etc. I will summarize the main ideas I have extracted from my conversations.
The agrarian reform promulgated by the famous ukase of November 22, 1906, ushered in very aptly the liquidation of the old rural system, the defects and vices of which were becoming more glaring every day. The author of the reform, Stolypin, regarded the mir, or communal ownership, as the root cause of the poverty, ignorance, and physical and moral misery of the moujik. It is certainly impossible to conceive a system of tenure and exploitation which is more opposed to agronomic laws, and less favourable to the development of individual energy and initiative. To put an end to the communal ownership of property and organize the partition of the land among the members---thus gradually forming a kind of peasant Third Estate---was Stolypin's programme.
Hitherto the champions of autocracy had always regarded the mir as an inviolable dogma, a rampart against revolution, and one of the historic pillars of social order. The agrarian disorders of 1915 discredited that idea. But the principle of indivisibility, which is the very basis of the mir, has for centuries given the peasant a rooted conviction that the land belongs to no one, or rather that God means it for those who cultivate it. Besides, the equal shares and periodical partitions among the members of the mir are always making the moujik feel how small are the nadiels allotted to him; hence his conclusion that it is the duty of the State to increase his holding by the compulsory purchase of seignorial properties, and even by resorting to the ecclesiastical and crown lands.
It is not difficult to imagine to what good use the leaders of agrarian socialism, such as Tchernov, Lenin, Roikov and Kerensky, put ideas like these. If the course of events and the result of the war allow the application of the 1906 reform for another twelve years, if Russia's financial situation permits of a wide extension of the operations of the peasant bank which acts as intermediary between the barin vendor and the peasant vendee, and if certain fiscal measures can be taken to encourage the great landowners voluntarily to sell part of their estates, large and medium scale landholding will be saved. If not, the socialist utopias will get an ever stronger hold on the simple imagination of the peasant.
Even now, many are the systems offered him as ensuring his welfare. The scheme which the Labour group in the Duma are advocating at the moment may be summarized thus: all the land to be nationalized and divided among all the cultivators who do manual work. A few figures may suffice to show the practical value of this scheme.
Taking Russia in Europe alone, it is estimated that the nationalized land would have an area of about 200,000,000 hectares; there would be approximately 25,000,000 "heads of families" to share in the distribution; a permanent army of 300,000 surveyors would be required to carry out the survey and settle the boundaries; the geodetical work would take not less than fifteen years, because snow and thaws make all survey work impossible for five or six months in the year; during this period of fifteen years the normal increase of population would raise the number of "heads of families" to 30,000,000, so that the original basis of the distribution would have to be entirely changed. Thus the wholesale division of the land would simply lead to hopeless confusion, and a frightful outbreak of looting, destruction and anarchy.
The labour problem seems to be just as troublesome. Russian industry has expanded with extraordinary rapidity. It has been calculated that before 1861 there were 4,300 works and factories in the empire; in 1900 the number was put at 15,000; there are more than 25,000 to-day. Yet, for all that, the material and moral condition of the workmen is very backward. In the first place, most of them cannot read or write, which greatly reduces their productive capacity. Then the number of peasants who leave country districts to look for work in the towns is increasing every day. The effect of the influx of workers which accompanies this rural exodus is to keep wages down to a very low level, which usually does not enable the workman to provide the necessary minimum of food, lodging and clothing. On the other hand, the extended use of machinery, by diminishing the value of mere physical strength, frequently means that the master decides to employ female and child labour instead of male. Hence the social repercussion that the workman's family life is destroyed because no one is left at home.
This state of affairs, bad enough in itself, is made worse by all the aberrations, mistakes and iniquities of which the imperial bureaucracy is always making the proletariat the victim. In matters of labour policy, the principal and ideal of Russian legislation is the paternal state. In reality it is the police state. The tsarist officials regard themselves as the natural and final arbitrators in all disputes between capital and labour. The way in which they perform their functions as arbitrators provokes the dumb fury of the workmen, and arouses incessant thoughts of resistance, revolt and destruction. In no country are strikes so frequent and violent.
But an element which is quite peculiar to Russia---perhaps the ugliest feature of the regime---is the fact that the police play the part of agent provocateur in strikes. The system is a very old one, though it is only in the last ten years, since the ministry of the notorious Plehve (assassinated in 1904), that it attained its full growth. The sinister Okhrana employs a large number of confidential agents in working-class circles, not to keep an eye on the revolutionary party, but to keep it alive and make it act when required.
When the "Constitutional Democrats" of the bourgeoisie or the Duma get too noisy, or the Emperor betrays some flickering spark of liberalism, a riotous strike immediately breaks out. For a moment the spectre of revolution stands out against the sky, in a trail of blood-red flame, as if to herald "the great night." But the Cossacks are already on the scene. Order is at once restored. Once more the Okhrana has saved autocracy and society---if it has not discredited them for ever
Thursday, February 17, 1916.
There is no civilized country in which the social lot of woman is so wretched and backward as in the country districts of Russia.
On this point the evidence is all one way. All the novelists who have described rural life agree in habitually representing the peasant woman as overwhelmed with the roughest and hardest work, treated as a slave in her house, exhausted by pregnancies and ailments, the victim of every form of lust, bullied from morning to night and beaten on the slightest excuse. The general accuracy of these descriptions is borne out by the startling examples of crimes of violence and passion which find their way into the legal records.
In the villages sexual morality falls to a very low level. The domokhoziaïne (head of the family) exercises sovereign rights over all the women under his roof. The long winter nights, lack of light, shortage of room and promiscuity of the inhabitants are all favourable to the most shameful licence. Nothing is more common than incest between the domokhoziaïne and his snokha (daughter-in-law) when the young husband is away with his regiment or working in the town. This concubinage is so widespread that there is actually a special word for it---snokhatchestvo. The biblical wickedness of Lot and his daughters, Ruben and Bala, Ammon and Thamar, is consciously perpetuated in the shadow of the isbas. In this respect, at any rate, the habits of the moujiks have remained patriarchal.
The statistics of prostitution in the towns are a striking proof of the demoralization of the rural districts. I was discussing this matter some time ago with the worthy Madame Narishkin, Grand Mistress of the Court, who has devoted herself to moral propaganda in the prisons for women, and is president of several societies which help ex-prisoners, unmarried mothers, reformed girls and so on. In a tone of great distress she said to me:
"Would you believe that it is more particularly from our country districts that the refuse heaps of the cities are supplied? In Petrograd, Moscow, Kiev, Nijny-Novgorod and Odessa more than half and sometimes three-quarters of the prostitutes are peasant girls---and almost always young girls, mere children, who are taken by their parents themselves to the proprietors of the maisons publiques ?. . ."
I asked the Prefect of Police for some figures. He replied:
"I couldn't tell you the exact number of women who live by prostitution in Petrograd, as most of them evade the formalities of registration, and carry on their profession in a clandestine or casual fashion. But there must be approximately 40,000, of whom at least fifty per cent. are peasants. As a rule they start very young, when they've barely reached puberty. The great majority of the registered or casual girls are not more than twenty-four years of age. Usually, they don't carry on their profession for long, as it's a hard one. When they are getting on for twenty-five they go back to their villages to marry, or perhaps get employment as workgirls in a factory. These latter get off lightly, but many of them are lost for ever by drink, syphilis or tuberculosis."
Friday, February 18, 1916.
Sazonov, with sad eyes and pain-racked features, has been telling me how much he deplores the reactionary and vexatious spirit which has entirely governed home politics since Sturmer's accession to power. As I wanted him to be more specific, I asked him:
"As you're a genuine devotee of tsarism, tell me how you can expect the Emperor to reconcile his autocracy with the principles of constitutional monarchy which you want to introduce."
He answered me impetuously:
"Why, it was the Emperor himself who defined and limited his autocratic powers when he promulgated our fundamental laws in 1906! In the first place, you should know the real meaning of the title Autocrat. It was Ivan the Great who took the title of Tsar-Autocrat, at the end of the fifteenth century; he meant that title to show that the principality of Muscovy was henceforth a sovereign independent state, which would not pay the annual tribute to the Khan of the Tartars any longer. That's what he meant and no more. Subsequently the term autocrat came to imply the idea of absolute and unlimited omnipotence, arbitrary and unfettered despotism. That was Peter the Great's and Nicholas I's idea of their authority; unfortunately it is the same which Pobiedonostzev and Katkov put into the head of Alexander III, a very noble person---an idea which Nicholas II has more than inherited.(1)
"The same theory may be discovered in Article 4 of the Fundamental Laws, which proclaims that 'the Emperor possesses supreme autocratic power, and God himself orders his subjects to obey him.' But anything that is extravagant in this principle is toned down by Article 7, which provides that 'the Emperor exercises legislative power, in concert with the Council and Duma of Empire.' You see the result: the Russian people have thus become one of the directing organs of the empire, and tsarism, though based on divine right, is brought into line with the juridical theory of modern states."
"If I understand you right, the Fundamental Laws have retained the Emperor's title of autocrat only to safeguard the prestige of the supreme authority and gloss over a break with the past?"
"Yes; approximately.... I say approximately, because I am far from regarding the title of autocrat as nothing but an historical survival, or simply a legal formula. I think that with us---given our traditions, standard of culture and national temperament---supreme authority should be extremely strong, and I am ready to grant it every prerogative and the fullest powers of command and coercion. But I should want it to be subject to control, and, more important still, enlightened. As things are now, it is uncontrolled, and you know well enough what kind of folk claim a monopoly of enlightening it."
After a moment's silence I resumed: "While we are on this delicate topic, may I ask you a question-as a friend?"
"I'm afraid I can guess what you are going to say.... Doesn't matter! Go ahead !"
"Wouldn't it be possible for me to take discreet action in the sense of your views?"
"For Heaven's sake, don't! You of all people, the representative of a republic! I'm already looked upon with suspicion because I personify the alliance with the Western democracies. What would happen to you if anyone had the slightest excuse for charging you with interfering in our domestic affairs?"
Saturday, February 19, 1916.
Whether from the point of view of national temperament or personal character, the Russians are the very essence of instability. The war, which has subjected their nerves to a continual strain, has aggravated this characteristic, so that I am always being struck by this phenomenon.
Their whole personality is compressed into their thoughts and feelings at the moment. What they thought and felt yesterday has already ceased to influence them, has in fact ceased to exist for them. Their present state of mind sometimes destroys even the memory of previous states of mind.
There is no question that evolution is as much the universal law of moral as of organic life, and when we cease to change we die. But in races of a healthy mentality the changes are always progressive; contradictory tendencies more or less balance; there is no violent internal conflict; the swiftest and most complete metamorphoses inevitably imply transitions, reactions and stages. But here the scales of the balance do not even oscillate; they drop or rise in a moment. Visions, desires, passions, ideas, beliefs---the whole internal edifice suddenly collapses. To the majority of Russians the dream of happiness is a perpetual change of scene.
I was thinking of this at the Théâtre Marie the other evening when Tchaikovsky's poetic ballet, Sleeping Beauty, was being given. From top to bottom of the theatre the faces of the spectators were a picture of delight when the mist-laden lake, on which floated the enchanted barque, was suddenly changed into a dazzling palace.
I reflected that it is on just such a mist-laden lake that the Russian barque is sailing now. But when the scene is changed I fear we shall find that something very different from a dazzling palace will emerge!
Sunday, February 20, 1916.
Ensconced in the cushions of a settee, her hands crossed behind her neck, and her whole body as supple as a flowing sash, Madame R----- was listening to us; her lips never moved and her eyes were far away. She was "in a minor key" to-night, or, to put it more bluntly, bored. The amusing and lively chatter in her presence hardly seemed to touch her. But a sentimental paradox, delivered by S-----, brought her up with a start. In her warm, quick voice. rather a cooing voice, she said:
"How delightful love would be if we could love continuously without interrupting our dreams or delirium, and without those lucid intervals in which we see things as they really are, and judge the other and ourselves. . . . Have you noticed the platform at a concert during the interval, when the players have gone off for a smoke? The instruments lie about among the stands and scores. The violins, bass, double basses and big drum look so melancholy, forlorn and grotesque, just like old broken furniture; it all suggests a bric-à-brac shop. It's the wrong side of music; one forgets it the moment the concert begins again. But the wrong side of love is much worse. And one thinks of it willy-nilly when one plunges into a duo."
Monday, February 21, 1916.
Yesterday the Grand Duke Nicholas Nicolaïevitch made his entry into Erzerum, where he was received by General Yudenitch.
The loss of Erzerum has cost the Turks 40,000 men killed or wounded, 13,000 prisoners, 323 guns and nine standards.
The Russians are now masters of Armenia.
In Persia, Southern Kurdistan, the occupation of Kermanshah, which is imminent, will clear the way to Baghdad.
Tuesday, February 22, 1916.
The Imperial Duma resumed its work to-day.
This resumption had been so often postponed by Goremykin that public discontent was assuming dangerous proportions.
The Emperor has realized this, and the instinct of prudence, which takes the place of political flair with him, has prompted him to a very happy thought. He went to the Tauride Palace in person to open the session.
His decision was taken yesterday evening, and kept secret up to the last minute. It was only at one o'clock that the ambassadors of the Allied Powers were asked by telephone to be at the Tauride Palace punctually at two o'clock; no reason was given us.
Since the establishment of representative government in Russia, it is the first time that the Emperor has visited the Duma. Previously it was the practice for the deputies to go to the Winter Palace to greet their Tsar.
I arrived at the same moment as the Court carriages.
In the great hypostyle hall in which Potemkin once dazzled Catherine by his splendid parties, an altar was set up for the opening prayers. The deputies were grouped around it in serried rows. The public had left the galleries of the chamber itself, and were crowded in the circular gallery above.
As soon as the Emperor reached the altar the religious service began with those wonderful anthems, now broad and soaring, now pure and ethereal, which are the eternal interpretation of the infinite aspirations of orthodox mysticism and Slav emotion.
Everyone present was moved to the very depths. Among the reactionaries, the champions of absolute autocracy, glances of fury or consternation were exchanged, as if the Emperor, the Elect of God and the Lord's Anointed, was about to commit sacrilege. But on the faces of the parties of the Left was an expression of radiant and quivering ecstasy. I could see tears glistening in many eyes. Sazonov, who was next to me, was praying earnestly, as he was largely responsible for what was happening. General Polivanov, the War Minister, whose liberal leanings I was aware of, whispered in my ear:
"Do you realize the full significance and beauty of this scene? ... It's a solemn hour for Russia; a new era in her history is beginning."
The Emperor was a little way in front of me. Behind him stood his brother, the Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovitch; then Count Fredericks, Minister of the Court, Colonel Svetchin, aide-de-camp on duty, and General Voyeikov, Commander of the Imperial Palaces.
The Emperor listened to the service and singing with his usual composure. He was very pale, almost livid. His mouth continually tightened, as if he were trying to swallow something. More than ten times he indulged in the family trick and tugged at his collar with his right hand; his left hand, in which he held his gloves and cap, was perpetually opening and closing; his discomfort was obvious enough. On May 10, 1906, when he opened the session of the first Duma in the Winter Palace, everyone thought he was going to faint, so tortured and cadaverous were his features.
But prayers were soon over; the clergy withdrew.
The Emperor then said a few words on patriotism and unity:
I rejoice to be with you, among my people, whose representatives here you are, and I call down the blessing of God on your labours. I firmly believe that you will bring to your work, for which you are responsible to the Fatherland and myself, the whole of your experience, your knowledge of local conditions and love of country, and that your doings will be actuated solely by that love, which will serve you as a guiding star. With all my heart I wish the Imperial Duma fertile labours and complete success.
During this speech Nicholas II was quite painful to watch. His voice could hardly struggle through his throat. He stopped or stumbled over every word. His left hand shook violently; his right nervously clutched his belt. The unhappy man was quite out of breath when he reached the conclusion of what he had to say.
A stentorian "hurrah" was his answer. In his loud, deep bass the President of the Duma, Rodzianko, then replied to the imperial address in these terms
With the deepest emotion we have heard your pregnant words. We are filled with joy to see our Tsar among us. In this hour of trial you have once more emphasized that close union with your people which points the way to victory.
Hurrah for our Tsar! Hurrah!
The public cheered this to the echo. Only the members of the Extreme Right were silent. For some minutes Potemkin's palace resounded with cheering.
The Emperor suddenly recovered himself, and all his charm returned; he shook hands all round, and was lavish with his smiles. Then he withdrew, passing through the chamber itself.
Wednesday, February 23, 1916.
Sazonov, on whom I have just paid my customary midday call, declares himself delighted with yesterday's ceremony, which has made the deepest impression in Russia:
"That's what I call sane policy! Good liberalism! The closer the contact between the Emperor and his people, the better will he be able to resist extremist currents."
"Was it your idea to bring him to the Tauride Palace?" I asked.
"No, it wasn't, unfortunately. It was---I'm sure you'd never guess---Fredericks', the Minister of the Court."
"Old Count Fredericks, conservative reactionary old-fashioned Fredericks!"
"Yes! But he's so devoted to the Emperor that he realized what the occasion required of His Majesty; it was he who made the suggestion to the Emperor and the President of the Council. The Emperor agreed at once; Sturmer didn't dare to object, and the matter was settled at once. I don't mind telling you that the Emperor feared the Empress would make a scene; he expected an avalanche of recrimination. She certainly disapproved, but calmly, with that frigid and reticent displeasure which with her is so often the strongest form of censure."
Thursday, February 24, 1916.
I had Princess Paley to dinner this evening. I had also invited my Italian colleague, the Marquis Carlotti, and a score of other guests. including Princess Daria Gortchakov, Prince and Princess Radziwill, M. and Mme. Polovtsov, Countess Kreuz and General Nicholas Wrangel, the Grand Duke Michael's aide-de-camp.
The reopening of the Duma was the principal subject of conversation. Princess Paley strongly approved the presence of the Emperor at the ceremony:
"I shall not surprise you," she added, "by telling you that this liberal action is not at all to the taste of the Empress; she hasn't recovered yet."
"What about Rasputin?"
"He's lavish with lamentation and evil forebodings."
General Wrangel, who is subtle and sceptical, attributes but slight importance to the Tsar's demonstration.
"You can take it from me," he said, "that to His Majesty the Emperor autocracy will always be an inviolable dogma."
1. When Alexander III ascended the throne in 1881 the manifesto he addressed to his people was drafted by the famous Pan-slav Katkov. The Tsar used the following language:
The voice of God orders Us boldly to assume absolute authority. Trusting in divine Providence and His supreme wisdom, full of hope in the justice and might of the autocracy We have been summoned to uphold, We shall endeavour, with the Grace of God, to lead Our country back into its traditional paths, and We shall take into Our keeping the destinies of Our Empire, which wilt henceforth be quietly discussed between God and Ourselves. . . .
Volume II, Chapter Seven
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