By Maurice Paléologue
FEBRUARY 25-MARCH 22, 1916.
Primitive mentality of the moujiks; different courses of evolution of the upper classes and the rural masses: "a terrifying abyss."---The Battle of Verdun; it makes a great impression in Russia.---Philippesco, formerly Rumanian War Minister, visits Petrograd; our conversation, as the result of which Sazonov tells him that the Russian General Staff is prepared to enter into a military convention with the Rumanian General Staff.---The Emperor invites me to a cinematograph show of the French front in his palace. He gives me an official audience next morning to discuss the Rumanian and Asia Minor questions; gives me a very warm reception and reminds me of common memories.---The House of the People. Shaliapin in the part of Don Quixote; Cervantes' hero and the Russian spirit.---Songs of the steppe and isba; eloquence and beauty of the popular melodies: one of Maxim Gorky's peasant scenes.---General Sukhomlinov, ex-Minister for War, is brought before a military court.---Enthusiasm of the Russian people for the Verdun epic; the Emperor's congratulations to the French army.---Boris Godunov at the Narodny Dom; obscure influences and the power of the masses in the history of Russia.
Friday, February 25, 1916.
For the last five days the armies of the Crown Prince have been attacking Verdun with increasing intensity. Their offensive extends over a front of forty kilometres; the bombardment has been of unprecedented violence.
This is the most tragic moment since the Battle of the Marne, perhaps the most decisive of the war.
Saturday, February 26, 1916.
The recent elevation of Monsignor Pitirim to the Metropolitan See of Petrograd has made Rasputin the absolute master of the Church.
As proof of this, he has just compelled the Holy Synod to bow to his will, and solemnly ratify the canonization of the "Servant of God," John of Tobolsk.
His friend, the cynical Bishop Varnava, never anticipated so swift and striking a victory. To crown everything, he has just been promoted to the dignity of archbishop.
Sunday, February 27, 1916.
If health is nothing but the smooth working of all the functions, the harmonious co-operation of all the organs and the co-ordination of action of the vital forces, it must be admitted that the Russian colossus is very sick, for the body politic is revealing enormous dissonances and incongruities.
One of the most alarming symptoms is the gulf, a regular abyss, which separates the upper classes and the rural masses. The break between the two groups is complete; it is as if there were a gap of several centuries. This fact is particularly observable in the relations between officialdom and the peasants. I will give a few examples:
In 1897 the Government started on a general census of the population, in accordance with the highly detailed rules of modern statistics. It was the first time that so vast and methodical an operation had been undertaken. Hitherto the authorities had confined their efforts to certain local, summary and merely approximate censuses. The census officials everywhere met with profound distrust and frequently open resistance. Strange rumours spread abroad and alarmist myths gained a firm hold: the tchinovniks were bent on an increase of military obligations, a requisition of corn, additional taxation, agrarian revision for the benefit of landlords, perhaps even the restoration of serfdom. In all quarters the moujiks exchanged anxious glances and muttered: "It's an omen of great evils. . . . Nothing good can come of it. . . . It's the work of the devil!" Of course the tchinovniks did not fail to prey upon these childish fears with a view to extorting bribes. The abyss between the two castes was deeper than ever.
One of Korolenko's novels, The Eclipse, gives us a vivid description of the attitude of fierce, sly suspicion which the Russian peasant adopts towards the representatives of the upper classes, and all who are above him by virtue of official authority, wealth, knowledge or education. The scene is laid in a small town on the Volga. Astronomers have come to observe an eclipse of the sun. The presence of these strangers, their mysterious preparations and curious instruments, immediately alarm the little place. A rumour spreads at once that they are sorcerers, agents of the devil, emissaries of Antichrist. A suspicious and murmuring crowd gathers round them and they have great difficulty in protecting their telescopes. Suddenly the eclipse begins and the sun hides itself. The fury of the crowd then breaks forth. Some of them cry out against the impiety of the astronomers in daring to question Heaven: "God will give them their answer by thunder!" Others shriek out like maniacs: "It's the end of the world! We're all about to die! Lord, have mercy on us! "
But the sun soon reappears. The agitation dies down. The spectators congratulate each other on having escaped so dire a peril "Let us thank God that we are still alive! . . ."
Not less significant are the popular outbreaks which habitually accompany the famines and epidemics which are so frequent in Russia. Whenever there is a famine the same charge is spread abroad "It's the officials and landlords cornering the grain!." Or else: "The tchinovniks and barins have arranged the extermination of the people in order to seize their land."
When there are epidemics the suspicions of the peasants are invariably turned against the doctor, who in their eyes is the agent of the authorities: "Why does he use incomprehensible words? Why these unfathomable looks and strange actions? Who can doubt that it is he who spreads cholera; he is poisoning the poor moujiks by order of the Government!" And away they go and burn ,the hospital, smash up the laboratory, and insult or beat the doctor, sometimes even kill him!
In this respect the novelist Veressaiev, always a model of accuracy in his descriptions of Russian life, has not exaggerated in the least in his story of the heartbreaking experiences of Dr. Tchekianov. The doctor, a youthful enthusiast, who is obsessed by a desire to be of service to the poor, exhausts himself in prodigies of self-sacrifice during an epidemic of cholera. But that does not prevent him being regarded as a poisoner by the ignorant brutes he is sent to help; insulted, abused and ultimately half beaten to death. On his bed of pain he reflects bitterly. But instead of bearing his torturers any ill-will he feels infinite pity for them and writes in his diary: "I have been beaten! Beaten like a mad dog because I came to help them and devoted all my knowledge and strength to them. Only to-day I realize how much I loved them. I have not succeeded in winning their confidence. I had almost brought them to believe in me; a few glasses of vodka were enough to thrust them back in to their mental darkness and reawaken their primitive savage instincts. And now I feel I am going to die. But why have I struggled? In what cause am I dying? Obviously all this was inevitable. The moujiks have always regarded us simply as strangers. We despised and avoided them. We never tried to know them. A terrifying abyss separated us from them. . ."
Monday, February 28, 1916.
For several months the Russian people were inclined to sneer at the military assistance of France.
In spite of our great propaganda work through the Press, illustrated papers, lectures, and the cinema, people had not realized the intensity of the struggle on the western front. More than once I have had to draw the attention of Sazonov, Goremykin and General Sukhomlinov to the unfair and discourteous criticisms of certain papers.
The Battle of Verdun has changed all that. The heroism of our army, the skill and coolness of our High Command, our enormous resources in matériel and the splendid attitude of our public opinion are admired by everyone.
The President of the Duma, Rodzianko, called on me to-day to bring me the congratulations of the Assembly.
In the streets, and mainly in front of the newspaper posters, I have several times heard moujiks talking of Verdoun.
Wednesday, March 1, 1916.
Philippesco, formerly War Minister in Rumania and head of the francophile party at Bucharest, has just arrived in Petrograd to take stock of the situation.
He has had a very kind reception from the Emperor and Sazonov, but while confirming the highly favourable disposition of his country towards the allied cause he has confined himself to generalities.
He has asked Diamandy to tell me that he would be glad to have a talk with me, and would have called to see me before had he not been confined to bed with a cold.
Thursday, March 2, 1916.
From the President of the Republic I have received a telegram for the Emperor on the subject of Rumania, from which I conclude that Paris has not seen through Bratiano's game.(1)
I immediately handed this telegram to Sazonov, who seemed more than surprised, in fact rather annoyed.
"It is not the Emperor but the King of Rumania to whom the President of the Republic should be writing. It's not, as Monsieur Poincaré seems to think, simply a question of divergence of views between the Russian and Rumanian staffs as to the theatre of operations, inasmuch as there have not even been conversations, notwithstanding my efforts. It is not any particular strategic conception which is at stake; it's the very principle of co-operation. When I question Diamandy and tried to draw him on to practical ground, he invariably replies that he is without instructions and has not the slightest idea of his Government's intentions. When our military attaché, Colonel Tatarinov, arrives in Bucharest, armed with full powers and all information necessary to open negotiations, Bratiano tells him that the day of Rumania's abandonment of neutrality is far away, and we have plenty of time to make our joint plans. And now, when M. Philippesco calls on me, and I try to get him to talk, he gives me nothing but evasive replies."
"I can understand that you lose patience with Bratiano's methods, but the matter is too serious for you not to do your utmost to win over Rumania definitely to our cause. The President of the Republic's telegram gives the Emperor a very timely opportunity of announcing his intentions; your allies will be all the stronger for it when it comes to taking action in Bucharest."
Friday, March 3, 1916.
The Russian Government persists in remaining silent about the restoration of Poland. Paris, where the Polish committees of Switzerland are carrying on a very energetic and skilful propaganda, is getting anxious about it.
At this end I neglect no opportunity of pointing out that the Imperial Government is making a grievous mistake in delaying to establish the autonomy of Poland on a broad basis; it risks being forestalled by the Teutonic powers.
Of course, I am obliged to be very diplomatic, as Russian nationalism has not yet forgotten the events of 1863.
It is with Sazonov that I discuss this topic most frequently and frankly. As the police, the terrible Okhrana, report all my movements to him, I do not conceal from him that I freely receive my Polish friends at the embassy---Count Zamoïski, Count Ladislas Wielopolski and his brother Sigismond, Count Constantine Plater Syberg, Roman Skirmunt, Count Joseph Potocki, Rembielinski, Korvin Mileuski, etc. Their visits make him a bit anxious about me. Yesterday he said to me:
"Be careful! Poland is a dangerous quarter for an ambassador of France."
I replied with the line of Ruy Blas, slightly amended
Poland and her King are full of precipices.
But the diplomacy I have to display towards the Imperial Government in the Polish question is only a difficulty of detail. The main obstacle to a speedy decision is the conflict of opinion it arouses in the Russian world.
There can be no doubt that the Emperor himself has been won over to the principle of a generous autonomy. Provided that Poland remains under the sceptre of the Romanovs, he would concede most of the Polish claims. Sazonov shares his views and bravely exhorts him to adhere to them.
On the other hand, public opinion in Russia, taken in bulk, simply will not hear of Poland ceasing to be included in a united empire. The opposition does not come merely from nationalist circles and the bureaucracy; it is seen in the Duma and all the parties. The result is that the proclamation of Polish autonomy by legislative act is impossible, so I imagine that the question cannot be solved otherwise than by a motu proprio of the Emperor, a coup d'état of his sovereign will. I am told that this is Sazonov's idea and that he has already suggested it to the Emperor; but he has against him Sturmer and the whole "Potsdam Court," who are clever enough to see that 'the Polish question is the best weapon for a reconciliation with Germany.
Saturday, March 4, 1916.
Sazonov has communicated to me the Emperor's reply to the President of the Republic's telegram; it confirms all that I telegraphed to Briand several weeks ago.(2)
This afternoon I had a long talk with Philippesco, who received me at the Rumanian Legation; he could not come to the embassy, as he is still an invalid.
In spite of his physical exhaustion, he has a depth of conviction and warmth of tone which he betrays the moment he speaks.
After postulating that he has no official mission and is travelling simply as a private individual anxious to see things for himself, he said:
"You know my feelings for France; it's my second country. And you know how impatient I am to see our army take the field. Nor can you be unaware that I am not a political friend of our President of the Council, and in fact he reckons me among his opponents. But I won't conceal the fact that I think M. Bratiano is right in refusing to launch our country into the war before the time for a general allied offensive has come, and the Russian army is ready to enter the Dobrudja. The dispatch of a Russian army south of the Danube is not merely indispensable from the strategic point of view; it is necessary to make the breach between Russia and the Bulgarians definite and irreparable. As soon as these conditions precedent are fulfilled we shall enter Transylvania. But I doubt whether the Russian Government and General Staff will agree with our point of view."
I replied in a decided tone:
"I have no reason to assume that the Russian General Staff would not agree to send an army to the Dobrudja. As to whether a Rumanian contingent should or should not support the movements of that army, that's a detail which will be governed by the plan of campaign. In any case you needn't think that the Russian Government is trying to be gentle with the Bulgarians. Russia is a loyal ally. As long as the French and the English Salonica armies have the Bulgarian army to fight, Russia will show Bulgaria no mercy; I'll promise you that."
Philippesco seemed to me quite impressed by my firm language. More than once he glanced inquiringly at Diamandy, who was listening to our talk in silence, and replied with a nod.
Then I put a definite question to Philippesco:
"Why does M. Bratiano evade all negotiations?"
With a gesture of irritation he replied:
"Because he's taking a shabby line! He doesn't find the market good enough! So he's letting the best opportunities slip by. By delaying the decision on which all Rumania insists, he'll make us the vassals of Germany! . . ."
Returning to the vital question, the conclusion of a military convention, I pointed out to Philippesco the dangers to which Bratiano is exposing his country by refusing to state here and now what practical form he expects the help of Russia to take, and failing which Rumania will have to renounce the realization of her national dream. I continued:
"The decisive hour may strike much sooner than M. Bratiano imagines. You must remember that a military convention always takes a long time to negotiate---two or three weeks at least. Then there are the preparations to give effect to it. The railways have to be adapted, all the transport assembled, supplies and depots prepared, etc. In the case of the Russians, who are such bad organizers and have such defective notions of space and time, this task is slower and more difficult than elsewhere. If Germany issued an ultimatum to Rumania to-morrow, M. Bratiano would be caught utterly unprepared. For argument's sake I'll admit that he is reluctant to undertake to declare war by a fixed day. But what objection can he find to the Russian and Rumanian General Staffs entering into a convention which, necessarily, would have no executory validity until ratified by the two Governments? Is he afraid of something leaking out, perhaps? Why, hasn't Rumania long been compromised in the eyes of the Central Powers by her agreement with the Allies on the subject of Transylvania? Isn't that agreement notorious?"
After a long pause, Philippesco said:
"I think I shall hasten my return to Bucharest."
Sunday, March 5, 1916.
Philippesco repeated our conversation of yesterday to Sazonov. The latter said to him: "I entirely endorse everything Monsieur Paléologue says."
As soon as Philippesco is well again, he will return to Bucharest.
Wednesday, March 8, 1916.
The fighting around Verdun is raging with redoubled ferocity. The Germans are attacking with large forces on both sides of the Meuse. Our line holds firm in spite of the intensity of their fire and the violence of their assaults.
Saturday, March 11, 1916.
Philippesco will leave Petrograd to-morrow on a visit to the southern front of the Russian armies. He will then return straight to Bucharest. He has been to say goodbye to me:
" I'm very glad you've spoken so frankly," he said. I've already reaped the benefit of it here and am taking the best impressions away with me. The moment I get to Bucharest I shall put pressure on M. Bratiano in the sense of your views, which I entirely share."
Sunday, March 12, 1916.
Taking advantage of the Emperor's visit to Tsarskoïe-Selo I have asked him for an audience to discuss Rumania and the general situation; he will receive me to-morrow, with the customary ceremonial.
But yesterday evening he very kindly informed me that a series of cinematograph films of scenes from the French front would be shown to his children to-day, and he asked me to be present, quite privately and informally, my official audience remaining fixed for to-morrow.
I reached Tsarskoïe-Selo at five o'clock. The apparatus was placed in the large rotunda drawing-room. In front of the screen were three armchairs and a dozen or so small chairs. The Emperor and Empress entered almost immediately, accompanied by the young Grand Duchesses and the Tsarevitch; they were followed by the Minister of the Court and Countess Fredericks, the Grand Marshal of the Court and Countess Benckendorff , Colonel Narishkin, Mlle. de Buxhoevden, the Tsarevitch's tutor, Gilliard, and some of the minor palace officials; groups of servants and chambermaids thronged all the doorways. The Emperor was in field uniform, the Empress and her daughters in woollen dresses, as plain as possible; the other ladies were in walking dress. It was the Imperial Court in the ungarnished simplicity of its daily life.
The Emperor made me sit between the Empress and himself. The lights were put out, and the performance began.
I was greatly moved by this long series of pictures and episodes, such truthful, vivid, pathetic and eloquent expressions of the French effort! The Emperor was lavish with his praises of our army. He kept exclaiming .
"Isn't it splendid! What wonderful dash your soldiers have! How could anyone face such a bombardment? What a mass of obstacles in the German trenches!"
But he always confined himself to vague general terms. Not one specific comment or professional observation or criticism did he make; nothing to reveal any personal experience of the military art, or technical sense of war. Yet he is the Commander-in-Chief of all the Russian armies!
The Empress said little, as usual, though she was as pleasant as possible. But how forced was her slightest compliment! What a wry twist there was in her smile!
I was alone with her during the interval of twenty minutes or so when tea was served, and the Emperor went off to smoke a cigarette in the next room. An interminable tête-à-tête! We talked about the war, its horrors, our inevitable victory, etc.; the Empress replied in short jerky phrases, invariably agreeing with me, as if she were an automaton. The fixed and distant gaze made me wonder whether she was listening to me, or indeed heard me at all. I was horrified to think of the omnipotent influence this poor neurotic woman exercised on the conduct of affairs of State!
The second part of the performance added nothing to my previous impressions.
As we were leaving, the Emperor said to me, in that kindly tone which is natural to him when he feels quite at his ease:
"I'm glad to have had this trip to France in your company. To-morrow we'll have a long talk together ......"
Monday, March 13, 1916.
At two o'clock I returned to Tsarskoïe-Selo, but this time in full uniform, with the usual ceremonial.
At the gates of the palace I met a party of officers who had just presented the Emperor with the Turkish standards captured at Erzerum on February 15.
This incident gave me an obvious opening for my conversation with the Emperor. I spoke in terms of the greatest admiration of the brilliant successes won by his army in Asia. He replied with a repetition of yesterday's eulogies of the heroes of Verdun, and added:
"I'm told that the coolness and skill of General Joffre have enabled him to husband his reserves. So I hope that in five or six weeks' time we shall be able to take the offensive simultaneously on all the fronts. Unfortunately, snow has been falling uninterruptedly for several days, and it prevents us from fixing any shorter period. But the moment my army is in a position to move, you may be certain that it will attack with the greatest possible vigour."
I pointed out in turn that the Battle of Verdun marks a critical date in the war, and the decisive phase of the operations cannot long be delayed; the inference I drew was that the Allied Governments must hasten to agree upon the great diplomatic questions outstanding, so that they can impose their solutions when the hour for peace strikes.
"That is why I direct Your Majesty's attention to the agreement the French and British Governments have just negotiated on the subject of Asia Minor; M. Sazonov is to discuss it with you to-morrow. I have no doubt that your Government will examine the legitimate claims of the Government of the Republic in the most generous spirit."
I gave him a general outline of the agreement. He immediately brought up the future constitution of Armenia.
"It's an exceedingly complicated question," he said: "I haven't yet discussed it with my ministers. Personally, I'm not contemplating any conquests in Armenia, with the exception of Erzerum and Trebizond, the possession of which is a strategical necessity for the Caucasus. But I won't hesitate to promise you that my Government will bring to its examination of this question the same friendly spirit which France has displayed towards Russia."
I emphasized the urgency of a decision:
"When peace comes, the hands of the Allies will have been enormously strengthened for dealing with Germany if they have settled in advance all the questions which might possibly divide them. The problems of Constantinople, Persia, the Adriatic and Transylvania have now been solved. We should make haste to solve the problem of Asia Minor."
This consideration seemed to strike the Emperor, as he promised to let it guide him to-morrow in his talk with Sazonov. He closed this topic with these words:
"I hope Asia Minor won't make your Government forget the left bank of the Rhine."
Rumania did not detain us long. The Emperor repeated what he had telegraphed to the President of the Republic on March 3, and his statements were so spontaneous and categorical that I could not ask him for more.
As he then rose, I concluded that the audience was over. But he took me to the window, offered me a cigarette and resumed the conversation before a marvellous vista of sun and snow, which seemed to lay a mantle of diamond dust over the garden.
He spoke in an intimate, confidential and frank tone he had never adopted with me hitherto.
"What great memories we can share together, my dear Ambassador!" he said. " Do you remember the first time I saw you, on this very spot? You told me that you felt the war coming and we ought to prepare. You also told me of the strange revelations of the Emperor William to King Albert; it struck me very much, and I immediately repeated it to the Empress. . ."
With perfect accuracy of memory, he successively recalled the banquet on board the La France on July 23, and our evening walk on his yacht at sea after the President of the Republic had left then the tragic week which began the very next morning the scene on August 2 in the Winter Palace, when he made me stand at his side while he took the solemn oath of 1812 on the Gospel; the unforgettable ceremonies at Moscow; then the whole series of our talks together, grave talks but always frankness itself.
His tone grew warmer and warmer with this long recital, which was almost a monologue, for I did no more than occasionally add a finishing touch to some of his memories.
When he had ended, I cast about for some phrase which could summarize and, so to speak, crown our conversation:
"I often, very often, think of Your Majesty, your heavy task and the whole burden of cares and responsibilities on your shoulders. And once, Sire, I deeply pitied you."
"When was that? I like you to talk like this. . . . When was that?"
"When you took command of your armies."
"Yes, that was a terrible moment for me. I thought God had deserted me, and a victim was necessary to save Russia. I know you understood my action, and I haven't forgotten it."
"I'm sure that in times like those it is the memory of your glorious father from which, after God, you draw your greatest inspiration."
I pointed to a large portrait of Alexander III which hung prominently over his table.
"Yes, in difficult moments---how many there are!---I always consult my father and he is always my inspiration. I'm afraid we must separate now, my dear Ambassador. I'm lingering here, talking to you, but, as I return to the Stavka to-morrow, I've still a lot to do."
At the door he shook me warmly by the hand.
From this audience, which lasted more than an hour, I brought away an impression that the Emperor is happy and facing the future confidently. Otherwise, how could he have dwelt with such obvious pleasure on memories which the war has enabled us to share? Secondly, I observed several characteristics of his temperament---simplicity, gentleness, capacity for sympathy, good memory, excellent intentions, mysticism, lack of self-confidence, and therefore an eternal hankering after support from outside or on high.
Wednesday, March 15, 1916.
Nicholas II was inspired by a happy and touching notion when he founded the Narodny Dom, or "House of the People," in 1901.
Behind the Petropavlovsk Fortress, on the bank of Kronversky Canal, rises a vast building which comprises concert rooms, theatres, cinemas, promenades and restaurants. It is severely plain. The architect's object, and sole object, was to create large roofed spaces ingeniously distributed: everything is subordinated to convenience of arrangement and suitability for its purpose.
The Tsar's idea was to enable the lower classes to procure amusement for a very small sum in a secluded and well-warmed place; he regarded it also as an unostentatious means of fighting the demoralizing influence of the public-houses and the pernicious effects of drink; vodka is not allowed in the building.
The undertaking has been a remarkable success; the place has even become quite the fashion. The most celebrated actors, leading virtuosi and the best orchestras regard it as an honour to appear in the Narodny Dom, so for twenty kopecks the lowly may familiarize themselves with the finest expression of the musical and dramatic arts. A few boxes and several rows of stalls are available for two or three roubles to the wealthier classes. The public go there in ordinary dress. The hall is always full.
This evening the wonderful Shaliapin sang Massenet's Don Quixote. To my box I had invited Princess Sophie Dolgoruky, Madame Polovtsev, the Countess de Robien, wife of my secretary, and Sazonov.
I had heard Don Quixote here several times before. No doubt the work is not one of Massenet's happiest inspirations; one is too conscious of the shortcomings of the ageing master, haste and artificial and commonplace development. But in the misadventures of the hidalgo Shaliapin finds an opportunity of carrying to their highest point his art of combination, breadth of style and dramatic power. On each occasion I have observed the intense interest which the public takes in the character of the hero and the action. I wondered why. At first sight there is nothing Russian about Cervantes' story, that masterpiece of good temper, sound sense, wisdom, mockery without bitterness and scepticism without disillusionment. But on reflection I have discovered several features which cannot fail to please Russians---generosity, warm-heartedness, pity, resignation to misfortune, and above all the attraction of the chimerical, the persuasive power of the idée fixe, the perpetual interplay of hallucination and cold reason.
After the death scene, in which Shaliapin surpassed himself, Sazonov said to me:
"It's perfectly beautiful, sublime! It's almost religious."
Thursday, March 16, 1916.
Sazonov tells me that the Imperial Government approves of the agreement reached between the cabinets of Paris and London on the subject of Asia Minor, except as regards Kurdistan, which Russia wants to annex in addition to the regions of Trebizond, Erzerum, Bitlis and Van. In return, he is suggesting that France should take the regions of Diarbekir, Karput and Sivas.
I have no doubt that Briand will acquiesce, so that this matter is now settled.
Friday, March 17, 1916.
I asked a few musical enthusiasts to dinner this evening---that fine painter and critic, Alexander Nicolaïevitch Benois, the young composers Karataguin and Prokofiev, the singer Madame Nazmanov, and the habitués of the embassy.
In her rich, warm voice, palpitating with sustained emotion, Madame Nazmanov sang us songs by Balakirev, Borodin, Moussorgsky, Liapunov and Stravinsky. Whether elegiac, soothing or pathetic, all these songs betray their popular origin. It is through the songs, born in the long evenings in the isbas or the infinite space of the steppes, that the melancholy of the Russian soul has found expression throughout the centuries, a melancholy which is usually dreamy and irresolute, but sometimes rises to fierce despair.
Maxim Gorky has given us a powerful description of the mournful intoxication into which music plunges the Russian peasants. Between Madame Nazmanov's songs one of my guests, who has lived among the peasants a good deal, confirmed the accuracy of an incident in a novel of this bitter and powerful writer with which I was much struck.
One evening, two moujiks, a cripple and a consumptive, met a loose woman in a smoke-laden tavern; all three were worn out with misery. "Let's have a song!" said the cripple. "There's nothing like sadness to enliven your spirit. If you want to set it on fire, sing it a sad song." He began to sing as if he were sobbing, and the words were suffocated in his throat. His companion echoed him in a deep, moaning voice, "giving the vowels alone." Then the woman's contralto rose, dreamy, palpitating and burdened with woe. Once started, the three singers did not stop: "They sang as if hypnotized by their voices, which rang forth now gloomy and passionate, now like to a sigh of repentance, now soft and plaintive as the crying of a child, now heavy with anguish and despair like all fine Russian songs. The sounds quivered and wept; at times it seemed as if they were about to expire, but they immediately revived, took up the dying refrain, tossed it in the air, where it fluttered for a moment and then fell. The shrill voice of the cripple accentuated this horror, and the prostitute sang, the consumptive wept and the dreadful song seemed as if it would never end. . ."Suddenly the consumptive cried: "Enough! Enough! In Christ's name, stop! I can't stand anymore! My heart's burning like a live coal! . . ."
To conclude the evening's entertainment Karataguin and Prokofiev played selections of their works. Very learned music. The time has gone by when Russian composers could be charged with ignorance of the technical side. The younger school, in fact, errs through excessive preoccupation with theory. Karataguin strikes me as a mediocre disciple of Scriabin; the things he played to us to-night were empty, complicated, prolix and pretentious. Prokofiev, on the other hand, is full of ideas, but they seem to be crushed out of existence, so to speak, by his eternal pursuit of novel modulations and unexpected sonorities. But I liked his suite, Les Sarcasmes, for their wealth of intellect, colour and delicate feeling.
Saturday, March 18, 1916.
The imperial commission, set up by the Emperor to investigate General Sukhomlinov's responsibility for the munitions crisis and the confusion in the military administrative departments, has completed its task with a report that the former War Minister should be brought before a court-martial.
Nicholas II has just approved that decision. General Sukhomlinov's name has now been removed from the Council of Empire.
Tuesday, March 21, 1916.
The epic of Verdun is arousing among all classes here an enthusiastic admiration of which I get direct evidence every day. But, mingled with it is a feeling which becomes increasingly tragic and humiliating, a realization of the impotence to which the Russian armies are reduced.
To satisfy the demands of the public conscience, the Emperor has just ordered a serious offensive south of the Dvina, in the direction of Vilna---notwithstanding the adverse weather conditions. Fierce fighting is taking place day and night between Lake Narotch and Lake Vizniev. Yesterday the Germans lost several villages.
To-day General Alexeïev is sending General Joffre the following telegram:
The Emperor instructs me to ask you to convey to the brave 20th Corps an expression of his warmest admiration and regard for its brilliant bearing in the Battle of Verdun. His Majesty is firmly convinced that under the command of its valiant leaders the French army, faithful to its glorious traditions, will not fail to break the will of its barbarous enemy. I personally am happy to express to you my immense admiration for the courage shown by the French army in these violent and trying encounters. The whole Russian army is following the great deeds of the French army with the closest attention. It sends it the best wishes of a brother-in-arms for a complete victory, and is only awaiting the order to join in the battle against the common foe.
Wednesday, March 22, 1916.
I was at the Narodny Dom again this evening to hear Shaliapin in Boris Godunov, which is his great part.
Pushkin's lyrical inspiration, Mussorgsky's genius for realism and Shaliapin's dramatic power combine so perfectly that the spell cast on the spectator is complete. The terrible adventure of the false Dimitry is revealed in a succession of tableaux, the relief and colour in which are astounding: it is the wholesale synthesis of an epoch.
The audience thinks itself transported into the very period and milieu of the drama; it shares, as it were, the emotions of the characters , their pangs, fury, weaknesses, apprehensions, infatuation and hallucinations. In the death scene Shaliapin revealed himself the equal of the greatest artists, as he always does. When the bells of the Kremlin tell the Muscovites that the autocrat is dying, and Boris, haunted by the phantom of the martyred tsarevitch, with haggard eye, trembling steps, twitching limbs and convulsive gestures, orders his servants to bring him the monk's robe which dying tsars must wear, the highest pitch of tragic horror is touched.
During the last act Madame S -----, who was in my box, pointed out very pertinently the important part which Mussorgsky assigns to the action of the masses. The picturesque crowd which moves around the protagonists is not an indifferent and passive multitude or a mere troop of supers and dummies; it takes an active part, intervenes in all the shifting phases of the scenario and is always well in the foreground.
The choral portions, which are numerous, are indispensable to the unfolding of the story and a proper understanding of the drama. Thus throughout the play one feels the influence of those obscure, fateful mass forces which have always been the decisive factor in the critical moments of Russian history. Hence the spellbound attention of the public. Madame S----- added:
"You may be quite certain that in this theatre there are several hundred, perhaps a thousand, people watching these scenes but thinking solely of current events; they already have the approaching revolution before their eyes. I was a very close spectator of our agrarian disorders in 1905; I was at my country house near Saratov. It is not political and social ideas which interest and excite our masses in a revolution; they don't understand them at all. It is the dramatic spectacles which send them crazy---processions with red flags, ikons and hymns, shootings, massacres, public funerals, scenes of drunken fury and destruction, lootings and fires, particularly the fires, which make such a wonderful effect at night. . . ."
Highly emotional in temperament, she worked herself up over her own descriptions as if she were actually seeing the sinister visions she was conjuring up. Then she suddenly stopped and resumed in a grave and dreamy tone:
"We're a theatrical race ... too imaginative, too much the artist and musician. It will do us a bad turn someday."
She lapsed into silent thought, with a look of horror in the depths of her great blue eyes.
1. The telegram was worded as follows.
Paris, March 1, 1916.
I ask pardon for drawing Your Majesty's attention to the vital importance the Government of the Republic attaches to Rumania's approaching decision. It would mean a grave peril to the Allies if that Power sooner or later yielded to the pressure of Germany. It would also be a moral and military defeat for them if she persisted in her neutrality to the conclusion of hostilities. France is prepared to do everything in her power to bring Rumania into the field. The main object of the forces she maintains at Salonica, notwithstanding the formidable effort the Germans are now making on the French front, is co-operation with Russia, England, Serbia and Rumania. I have no doubt that Your Majesty realizes the very great importance of Rumanian assistance. Your Majesty gave a very striking proof of your feelings when the question of Rumania's territorial claims was examined. Now that these delicate points have been settled and it only remains to decide upon the plan and conditions of military operations, I am sure that in these fresh negotiations Your Majesty will exert your powers of mediation so that the Russian and Rumanian armies shall have assigned to them a task and sphere of action in which each can make its maximum effort for the greatest good of the common cause. It is not surprising that Rumania should wish to operate mainly in regions assigned to her by diplomatic agreements, and it seems desirable that the Rumanian army, supported by the stronger and more experienced Russian army, should be inspired by its rôle of liberator in a theatre in which it will join hands with its racial brothers.
Your Majesty has no doubt pondered all these considerations before myself, and I firmly hope that, thanks to your high and far-sighted authority, the difficulties which still prevent the conclusion of a military convention will be overcome. I take this opportunity of renewing my warm wishes for Your Majesty and Russia.
2. The text of the telegram is as follows:
Tsarskoïe-Selo, March 3, 1916.
Since the war began, the Russian Government, attaching great importance to Rumanian help in the cause of the Allies, has never ceased in its efforts to conclude a military convention with Rumania.
No doubt the Government of the Republic has already been advised of the dispatch to Bucharest of Colonel Tatarinov, G.S., to inform Rumania of the help that Russia is prepared to give her, and to devise with the Rumanian General Staff the plan and terms of joint operations. The Rumanian Government, however, does not seem disposed to define its standpoint on the question of military co-operation, and has reserved its decision without even consenting to open negotiations on this subject.
I can assure you, Monsieur le Président, that Russia has done, and will continue to do, everything in her power to smooth over the difficulties which prevent the conclusion of the military convention with Rumania, and it is not her fault if that Government still defers taking action.
I am following with admiration the heroic resistance of France to the enemy's formidable assaults at the present moment.
Hoping with all my heart that those assaults will be broken against the unshakable. barrier opposed by the valiant French army, I take this opportunity, Monsieur le Président, of renewing the assurance of my high regard and unfailing friendship.
Volume II, Chapter Eight
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