By Maurice Paléologue
APRIL 1-JUNE 2, 1915
Easter services. The Priory of Malta; the Tsar Paul I's illusion. Russian churches and church music.---The Grand Duke Sergius and the munitions crisis.---A Pushkin joke; the proportion of German and Russian blood in the family of the Romanovs.---The question of the Ukraine.---The Russian armies begin their general offensive in the direction of Silesia. The Okhta powder works blown up.---Rasputin causes a scandal in Moscow.---The counter-offensive of the Germans and Austro-Hungarians in Galicia. The Battle of the Dunajec. General retreat of the Russians. Negotiations with Rumania. Italy declares war on Austria-Hungary.---Rasputin's intrigues against the Grand Duke Nicholas. A secret rival of the staretz : the youridivi Mitia Koliaba.---Petrograd and Venice: the estuary of the Neva.---An alarming prophecy.
Thursday, April 1, 1915.
It is Holy Thursday to-day. In accordance with the traditions of the imperial court the ambassadors and ministers of the Catholic powers have been invited in full uniform to the Church of the Priory of Malta to be present at mass and take part in the Procession of the Sepulchre.
The church, built on the plan of Latin basilicas and decorated with Corinthian columns, is next to the superb building of the Corps of Pages. On the façade is the following inscription in Roman characters:
DIVO IOANNI BAPTISTAE PAULUS IMP.
All the walls inside are covered with the Maltese Cross. On the left of the choir under a purple canopy is the gilded throne on which the Emperor Paul sat when presiding at the councils of the Order.
Among all the fantastic and paradoxical improvisations which marked the extraordinary reign of Paul I surely the most incomprehensible is the manifesto of September 22, 1798, in which the Tsar Autocrat, guardian of the Orthodox Church, announced that he took "under his supreme direction" the independent Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, deposed the Grand-Master of the Hospitallers, Ferdinand of Hompesch, and transferred the capital of the brotherhood to Saint Petersburg.
What was in his mind? Did he want to take Malta from the French with a view to securing a naval base in the Mediterranean for the Russian fleet? But England would never have allowed that at any price. Had he something even more ambitious in view---the reunion of the Greek and Latin Churches? But Pope Pius VI protested with all his might against the deposition of Hompesch. Was he simply indulging in a vague dream of the renaissance of mysticism and chivalry? All his wild schemes are puzzles. We shall never be able to see daylight in the incoherent imaginings of the grotesque and crazy autocrat.
Friday, April 2, 1915.
I returned to the Priory of Malta this morning to be present at the great ceremony of the Mass of the Presanctified.
In the mood bred by the ever-present fact of the war the service for to-day is most poignantly expressive. The priests in black, the bare altar, the absence of lights, the cross covered with a dark cloth---in memory of the great sacrifice accomplished on Calvary---the sublime story of the Passion as told by Saint John, and last, but not least, the solemn prayer in which no form of human suffering is forgotten,---what an unforgettable accompaniment all this is to the tragic visions of the present hour! My heart was full as I thought of the thousands of Frenchmen who have died to save France and of all the thousands more who will have to give their lives to bring her victory.
This year Easter Day is the same in both the Catholic and Russian calendars, and so since yesterday all the churches of Petrograd have been decking themselves in the full glory of their Asiatic and Byzantine splendour. When one enters at nightfall the contrast with the wan and misty street is so striking that one seems to be entering a fiery furnace or a conflagration of jewels, purple and gold.
After taking tea with Madame P----- I accompanied her to Saint Isaac, then to Our Lady of Kazan, and finally to the Cathedral of the Transfiguration.
In these three churches the singing is of extraordinary beauty. I know no country except Russia where church music attains such heights of mystery and majesty by vocal polyphony alone. The choir, about a hundred in number, is placed near the ikonostasis. At the back are the basses, then the baritones. In front are two rows of boys, contraltos and sopranos, whose childish and composed faces always bring to mind Luca della Robbia's charming work. The perfect execution reveals not only a remarkable technical training but still more a natural musical gift of a high order. However cunningly interwoven the parts, however delicate the modulations and complex the harmonies, the choristers keep faultless time and tune without the help of any sort of accompaniment. I could stay for hours listening to these anthems, responses, chants, psalms, and free passages. Many of the pieces I have heard to-day go back to the primitive origins of the eastern liturgy, but several others---and not the least fine of them---are quite modern, being the work of Bortniansky (who died in 1825 and is known as the "Russian Palestrina"), Glinka, Sokolov, Bakhmetiev, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tschaikovsky, Archangelsky, and Gretchaninov. What is so particularly splendid in these works is the deep religious feeling; their appeal is to the mysterious recesses of the soul, and they touch the most secret places of the heart. They express and develop with rare feeling all the lyrical elements enshrined in Christian doctrine. They are successively transports of prayer, sighs of despair, appeals for mercy, cries of distress, screams of fear, the anguished voice of repentance, the fervour of regret, the grief of self-abasement, flickers of hope, outpourings of love, transport of holy ecstasy, the splendours of glory and bliss. At times the tragic effects attained a most extraordinary and overwhelming intensity by the sudden intervention of two or three basses whose exceptional registers descended nearly an octave below the normal. At the other end the boys have crystal clear voices which rise so high and with such sweetness and purity that they seem to become sheer spirit, superhuman and seraphic. The heavenly songs which Fra Angelico heard within when he painted his angelic choirs could not have been more ethereal.
In all three churches there were huge crowds. Every class was represented, but the majority consisted of people in humble circumstances and poor peasants. The latter were much the most interesting to watch. In the first place, however miserable their lot, not one of them failed as he entered the church to take a few kopecks from his pocket to buy a candle to place before an ikon. Then they began their supplications in the Russian fashion; that is, they crossed themselves repeatedly, heaved deep sighs, knelt continually and prostrated themselves to the ground. Most of them were lean, haggard, and reduced to a skeleton by the Lenten fast. Their faces usually reflected a simple, docile, and contemplative faith. In many cases there was a curiously unchanging expression of vague and melancholy reverie. Every now and then one of them would wipe a tear from a bony cheek with the back of his hand. But the most striking feature of the whole crowd was the intent way in which they followed the service. Their heads swayed and their bodies oscillated in time with the cadence of the rhythms and the melodic patterns of the music. It was as if that music was a magnetic fluid coursing through their veins.
Saturday, April 3, 1915.
An official communiqué announces in very guarded terms the conviction and hanging of Lieutenant-Colonel Miassoyedov, "found guilty of relations with the agents of an enemy Power." The note adds that the judicial authorities are engaged in "clearing up all questions of complicity in the affair."
This last expression is rousing public curiosity which has long been highly excitable, distrustful of the authorities and prone to see treason everywhere.
Sunday, April 4, 1915.
This evening I have had a long talk with the Grand Duke Sergius Michailovitch whom I questioned very closely about the activities of the munition factories.
The Grand Duke Sergius is Inspector-General of Artillery, and brings to his duties rare qualities of efficiency, method, and a genius for command. He thoroughly understands all technical problems, works fourteen hours a day, and is quite ruthless towards neglect and incompetence. But all his efforts fail before the spirit of routine, indifference and dishonesty of the public services. Down-hearted and sick to death of the whole business he remarked yesterday to one of my officers for whom he has a particularly high regard: "French industry has reached an output of 100,000 rounds a day. We produce barely 20,000 here. What a scandal! When I think that this exhibition of impotence is all that our autocratic system has to show it makes me want to be a Republican!"
The lack of ammunition means that the role of the artillery in battle is necessarily insignificant. The whole burden of the fighting falls on the infantry, and the result is a ghastly expenditure of human life. A day or two ago one of the Grand Duke Sergius's collaborators, Colonel Engelhardt, said to Major Wehrlin, my second military attaché: "We're paying for the crimes of our administration with the blood of our men."
The day before yesterday a band of Bulgarian comitadji about 2,000 in number, crossed into Serbian territory at Valandovo and tried to destroy the station at Strumitza, near the Vardar. The attack was carried out in accordance with tactical rules and machine guns were used; it is alleged that Bulgarian officers were present.
As a portent the incident is serious. If the Tsar Ferdinand wanted to rouse the bellicose instincts of his people he would certainly begin by waving the Macedonian cag in their faces.
Monday, April 5, 1915.
For years to come historians will go on arguing as to whether the Emperor Paul I was really the son of Peter III or whether he owed his birth to the brilliant officer who headed the interminable list of his mother's lovers, Sergius Soltykov.
If the latter is true the successors of Catherine the Great cannot be the true heirs of the Romanovs. But whatever may be the solution of this conjugal puzzle, a problem remains. Does the Tsar Nicholas II trace his descent from the same family as his people? Is he of the same race? In a word, what proportion of Russian blood has he in his veins?
A very minute proportion.
This is his descent:
1. The Tsar Alexis Michailovitch (1629-1676) marries Nathalie Narischkin (1655-1694);
2. Their son Peter the Great (1672-1725) marries the Livonian, Catherine Skavronsky (1682-1727);
3. Their daughter Anna Petrovna (1708-1728) marries Charles Frederick, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp (1700-1739);
4. Their son Peter III (1728-1762) marries Catherine Princess of Anhalt-Zerbst (1729-1796);
5. Their son Paul I (1754-1801) marries Marie Feodorovna, Princess of Würtemberg (1759-1828);
6. Their son Nicholas I (1796-1855) succeeding his brother, Alexander I (1777- 1825), marries Alexandra Feodorovna, Princess of Prussia (1798-1860);
7. Their son Alexander II (1818-1881) marries Marie Alexandrovna, Princess of Hesse Darmstadt (1824-1880);
8. Their son Alexander III (1848-1894) marries Marie Feodorovna, Princess of Denmark (1847-....);
9. Their son Nicholas II (1868- ..) marries Alexandra Feodorovna, Princess of Hesse Darmstadt (1872- ...);
10. Their son Alexis (1904-....) is the present Tsarevitch.
When Peter III was born the heirs of the Romanovs thus had only one-fourth Russian blood in their veins to three-fourths German.
At each successive stage the national element loses one-half of its coefficient, so that the proportion of Russian blood is reduced to 1/16 in Nicholas I, 1/32 in Alexander II, 1/64 in Alexander III, 1/128 in Nicholas II, and only 1/256 in the Tsarevitch Alexis.
The poet Pushkin was fond of poking fun at the Teutonism of the modern Romanovs. To illustrate his sarcasms he one evening sent for several glasses, a bottle of red wine, and a decanter of water. He set out the glasses in a row and filled the first with wine up to the brim: "That glass," he said, " is our glorious Peter the Great: it is pure Russian blood in all its vigour. just look at the crimson glow!
In the second glass he mixed wine and water in equal quantities. In the third he put one part wine and three parts water, and continued thus mixing each fresh glass in accordance with the same inverse progression.
At the sixth glass, which represented the Tsarevitch, the future Alexander III, the proportion of wine had already become so small (1/32) that the liquid. was hardly tinged with it.
1 have continued Pushkin's experiment down to the present Tsarevitch. The disproportion between the two liquids is so enormous (1/256) that the very presence of the wine is no longer perceptible.
Tuesday, April 6, 1915.
For the last few days the Russian army has been carrying out a series of attacks in the western Carpathians. In spite of the difficult terrain it already holds the principal crests on a front of 100 kilometres. But the enemy is still resisting at the Uszok Pass which is the key to the whole region.
These attacks are the prelude to the general offensive of which the Emperor spoke to me three weeks ago.
Simultaneously an enormous concentration of troops is taking place throughout Galicia, particularly in the region of Tarnov and the Dunajec.
Thursday, April 8, 1915.
Sazonov is in possession of a number of secret documents, deciphered telegrams, and intercepted letters from which it plainly appears that the recent incursion of Bulgarian comitadji into Serbian Macedonia was arranged between Vienna and Serbia. He fears that before long there will be fresh attacks which will involve irreparable consequences---as Austria calculates. He is therefore inviting the French and English Governments to join with him in sending a strongly-worded remonstrance to the Bulgarian Government:
"I don't expect," he said to me, "to effect any great change in Minister Radoslavoff's feelings towards us; but the Bulgarian people should know where he is leading them."
Friday, April 9, 1915.
The result of the enquiry on which my Military Attaché has been engaged shows that the situation as regards ammunition supply of the Russian army is as follows:
At the moment the daily output of gun ammunition varies from 15,000 to 18,000 rounds.
If the orders placed abroad are carried out to contract time the Russian artillery will have:
28,000 rounds per day by the end of May;
42,000 rounds per day by the end of July;
58,000 rounds per day by the end of September.
That being so, how can the Emperor think of launching a general offensive in the direction of Silesia next month?
Saturday, April 10, 1915.
The venerable Goremykin, President of the Council, gave me an unexpected call this afternoon "for an informal chat."
We spoke of the general situation which he described as "excellent," but I know that his official optimism covers mental reservations and sceptical reflections.
In discussing Constantinople I thought it as well to remind him that the destruction of Teutonic power must still be the principal and essential object of our joint efforts:
"I know the Emperor's views on this point," I said, "so I am sure of yours. But do the Russian people sufficiently realize it?"
He replied with greater vigour than I expected from this disillusioned Nestor:
"The Russian people hate the Germans: they hate them in their very bones. You need have no fear that Constantinople will turn their thoughts from Berlin!"
Then I asked him about a matter which has been on my mind for some time, the question of the Ukraine. He broke in:
"There is no Ukrainian question!"
"But there's no doubt that Austria is making great efforts to create a national movement among the Ukrainians. Surely you know that there's a society for the Liberation of the Ukraine in Vienna? It publishes pamphlets and maps in Switzerland. I get them and they certainly reveal very intense propagandist activity."
"We know all about this society. It's a low haunt of police spies. It first appealed to our peasants in the Ukraine who didn't even understand what was being said to them. Feeling that there was nothing doing in that quarter it tried the workpeople in our sugar refineries in the region of Kiev and Berditchev. It occasionally sends them socialist tracts which we seize regularly from Jew hawkers. You can see there's nothing in it."
"But even if there's no Ukrainian question, or perhaps I should say no separatist movement in the Ukraine, you won't deny that there's a very strong particularist spirit in Little Russia."
"Oh, yes! The Little Russians have a very original individual character. Their ideas, literature, and songs have a very pronounced flavour of the soil. But that only shows itself in the intellectual sphere. From the national point of view the Ukrainians are as Russian as the purest Muscovites. And from the economic point of view the Ukraine is necessarily tied to Russia."
Sunday, April 11, 1915.
Through his secret agencies Sazonov has received another series of documents showing that the Tsar Ferdinand and the Court of Vienna have come to terms during the last few days. He was greatly excited and shaking with indignation as he said to me:
"Teutonic influences are decidedly getting the upper hand at Sophia. I've got proof of it now. I must expect anything of the infamous Ferdinand. Austria has him in her pocket. I must therefore insist on the ministers of the three Powers presenting the Bulgarian Government with the protest I suggested to you three days ago. If your Government and the British Government do not agree to this step Russia will be compelled to act alone. If the protest is not enough I shall ask the Emperor to recall Savinsky and perhaps order the occupation of Bourgas."
I immediately telegraphed all this to Delcassé, but knowing that he cherishes all sorts of illusions about the attitude of Bulgaria towards us I thought I had better add: "My memories of my long dealings with the Tsar Ferdinand and all that I know of his perfidy and cowardice, not to mention the convincing documents in the possession of the Russian Government, make me share Monsieur Sazonov's opinion in its entirety."
Monday, April 12, 1915.
This evening I had my second military attaché, Major Wehrlin, and two French officers attached to the expert munition mission to dinner with me. As we were going in there was a terrific explosion which shook all the windows of the room and made the chandeliers quiver. At the same time a huge cloud of purple smoke rose across the Neva, east of Petrograd.
"The Okhta powder factory's been blown up!" my officers cried with one voice.
A few less violent explosions followed. The flames of the conflagration illuminated the horizon. There could be no doubt; the great Okhta works---the most important of the factories for the manufacture of explosives, cartridges, propellants, fuses, and grenades from which the Russian army is supplied---has been destroyed.
My officers stared at each other in consternation: "An absolute disaster!"
We spent the whole of dinner in calculating the consequences of the catastrophe and considering means of repairing them.
After coffee I took my three officers in my car towards Okhta. We reached the suburb where, the disaster had taken place via Alexander Bridge and the Viborg quarter.
People were running about wildly. There were dead and wounded and burning houses everywhere. I saw the Prefect of Police in a square; he enabled us to approach the fantastic brazier in which the buildings of the factory, occupying an immense area, were crumbling to ruin in a whirlwind of flame. While my officers went round picking up information I contemplated the dreadful beauty of the spectacle before my eyes, a spectacle which was the fulfilment of one of the most tragic visions of Dante's Hell; I seemed to see the City of Dis, the infernal Babylon, with its fiery dome's white-hot ramparts.
When my officers returned their reports all agreed: the works have been entirely destroyed.
The cause of the catastrophe is not yet known. But the first theory that comes to mind is certainly the activities of German agents.
Tuesday, April 13, 1915.
The Okhta explosion has spread consternation in every quarter. As a matter of fact no one worries much about the practical consequences but everyone regards yesterday's disaster as an evil portent, "a bad sign from God." Nor does anyone doubt that it is the work of a German agent. "Miassoyedov had so many accomplices!"
The German General Staff know only too much about the Russian munitions crisis. On the other hand, they must be in possession of many indications pointing to the impending general offensive against Silesia. To deprive their adversary of the material means of continuing, if not of starting that offensive is too obvious an idea not to have occurred to them. With all the agents at their disposal in Petrograd it was a simple matter for them to get an infernal machine concealed in one of the Okhta powder factories.
Wednesday, April 14, 1915.
The French and British Governments have decided to land an expeditionary force on the Gallipoli Peninsula, with a view to overcoming the defences of the Dardanelles by land.
The command of this force has been entrusted to, General d'Amade. It was concentrated at Bizerta from which it has just been transferred to the Egyptian delta.
Thursday, April 15, 1915.
A few days ago the papers announced that Rasputin had gone to Moscow. In fulfilment of a vow he took last summer when the doctors were fighting for his life the holy man has gone to pray at the tomb of the Patriarch Hermogenes in the Kremlin.
It is true he has been seen absorbed in fervent prayer at the tomb of the revered patriarch and before each of the miraculous ikons and sacred relics which make the Uspensky Sobor (Cathedral of the Assumption) one of the most precious sanctuaries of the orthodox faith.
But in the evening he indulged in exercises of another kind, and although the orgy took place within closed doors enough details have leaked out to cause a great scandal and a dumb growl of anger and disgust in every class of Muscovite society.
This is the story as told to me by a relative of General Adrianov, the Emperor's aide-de-camp, who has just arrived here from Moscow.
The scene took place in a room in the Yar Restaurant in Petrovsky Park. Rasputin was accompanied by two journalists and three young women, one at least of whom moved in high social circles in Moscow.
Supper began about midnight. There was heavy drinking. A balalaika band played national airs. Rasputin became very excited and with cynical effrontery began to give his audience a description of his amorous feats in Petrograd, naming the women who had accepted his overtures, relating every detail of the scene and pointing out the particular charm and the most spicy or grotesque feature of each occasion.
When supper was over the balalaika band was succeeded by gipsy girls who sang. Rasputin, dead drunk, began to talk about the Empress whom he called the "old girl." The atmosphere of the assembly at once became chilly. He went on unheeding. Showing an embroidered waistcoat he was wearing under his caftan he said:
"The old girl made me this waistcoat. . . . I can do anything I like with her . . . ."
The well-bred woman who had strayed into this adventure by mistake, protested and wanted to leave. Staggering with fury Rasputin expressed his feelings in obscene gestures.
Then he attacked the gipsy girls but met with a rebuff. He swore at them and the name of the Tsaritsa mingled with his oaths.
The guests were now alarmed at the prospect of being mixed up in such a scandal which was already the talk of the whole restaurant and might have serious legal consequences owing to the insult to the Empress.
The bill was hastily demanded. The moment the tchelloviek brought it the society lady threw a bundle of rouble notes---far more than the whole bill---on the table and promptly disappeared. The gipsy singers followed her.
The rest of the company soon did likewise. Rasputin came out last, staggering, gasping, and swearing volubly.
Sunday, April 18, 1915.
The general offensive of which the Emperor spoke to me at Baranovici has begun.
In the western Carpathians the Russians are putting forth great efforts. The focus of their attacks at the moment is the Uszok Pass, which is not only at the source of the great rivers of Galicia but commands the entrance into Transylvania.
In the last few days the Austro-Hungarians have left 50,000 prisoners in the hands of their enemy.
Saturday, April 24, 1915.
The Moscow Prefect of Police, General Adrianov, a man of courage and conscience, desired to report personally to the Emperor on the scandal of Rasputin's recent conduct in the Yar Restaurant, a scandal about which the people of Moscow are still furious. He therefore appeared in full dress at Tsarskoïe-Selo the other morning and asked an audience. But the Governor of the Imperial Palaces, General Voyeikov, did not let him reach the sovereign.
General Adrianov then applied to General Djunkovsky. Commander of the Gendarmerie, who represents the police services at the Ministry of the Interior. He, too, is a man of courage and has tried at least twenty times already to convince his master of the infamy of the staretz.
In this roundabout way Nicholas II knows every detail of the disgusting orgy in the Yar Restaurant, but as he doubts the truth of what he has been told he has ordered a supplementary enquiry and entrusted it to his favourite aide-de-camp, Captain Sablin, the Empress's close friend.
In spite of his intimacy with Rasputin, Sablin has been compelled to admit that the statements made by General Adrianov are perfectly true.
Faced with these incontestable facts the Emperor, the Empress, and Madame Vyrubova have agreed to conclude that the powers of evil set a fearsome trap for their holy friend and that without assistance from above he would never have been able to get out of it so cheaply.
Monday, April 26, 1915.
At dawn yesterday a corps of Anglo-French troops landed near Sedul Bahr on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Operating under the cover of the guns of the Allied fleet they have established themselves at the end of the peninsula. The resistance of the Turks has been very hard to break.
Tuesday, April 27, 1915.
The Grand Duke Nicholas and his staff accompanied the Emperor during his recent visit to the Galician front.
Everyone has been struck by the indifference, or rather coldness, with which the Emperor was received by his army. The legend which has grown up around the Empress and Rasputin has been a serious blow to the prestige of the Emperor both with the men and their officers. No one doubts that treachery has its lair in Tsarskoïe-Selo palace and the Miassoyedov affair provides an argument for all suspicion.
Near Lvov one of my officers overheard the following conversation between two lieutenants:
"Which Nicholas are you talking about?"
"The Grand Duke, of course! The other one's nothing but a German! "
Friday, April 30, 1915.
The information coming in from every quarter about the concentration of Austro-German troops in Galicia is becoming alarming. The enemy is certainly preparing a sledgehammer blow in that region.
By way of diversion the Germans are boldly thrusting into Courland, in the direction of Mitau and Libau.
Saturday, May 1, 1915.
A quiet dinner at the Embassy with Princess Orlov, Sir George and Lady Georgina Buchanan, General and Countess Stackelberg, &c.
During the evening I have had a long talk with Stackelberg, who inherits a serious, logical, and practical mind from his German ancestors:
"It's a bit of luck for me to have got you here to-night you're never to be found in these days."
"It's no pleasure for me to go out now. In nationalist circles I'm supposed to be a Boche and that makes me angry. In reactionary circles the victory of Germany is desired and that disgusts me. Notwithstanding my Teutonic origins I'm passionately devoted to Russia and the Emperor has no more loyal subject than I or one more ready to sacrifice himself.(1) You know that I've lived in France and England a good deal. I'm a tremendous admirer of the French spirit and have a great weakness for things English. As for France, I can't tell you how much I admire her since the war began: in a few months she has done finer things than ever before in her history. You can see for yourself I'm no Boche! But as a Russian I'm more alarmed every day at the abyss into which the Anglo-French alliance is leading us. Russia is going straight to defeat and revolution, for we shall never beat the Germans; we cannot hold our own with them; I'm utterly downhearted."
I tried to fortify his courage a little, pointing out that the patent inferiority of the Russian army to the German army is only temporary:
"Your men are fighting splendidly. Your reserves of man-power are inexhaustible. What you lack is heavy artillery, aeroplanes, and munitions of war. In a few months from now you'll be abundantly supplied, and then you'll make the Germans feel the weight of your numbers."
"No! History shows that Russia is never so strong as at the beginning of a war. We haven't that wonderful faculty for adaptation and improvisation which enables you French and English to make good all your omissions in peace in the very middle of a war. With us war only aggravates the evils of our political system because it sets our bureaucrats a task they are utterly incapable of performing. Would that I were mistaken! But I expect that things will go from bad to worse. Look what a tragic position we're in! We cannot make peace without dishonouring ourselves, and yet if we continue the war we are inevitably heading straight for a catastrophe!"
Tuesday, May 4, 1915.
For the last two days the Germans and Austro-Hungarians have been attacking the sector of the Russian front between the Vistula and the Carpathians in full force. They are advancing irresistibly in an easterly direction; their left wing has already crossed the lower Dunajec which pours into the Vistula 65 kilometres above Cracow.
Thursday, May 6, 1915.
Between the Carpathians and the Vistula the Russian situation is becoming critical. After very severe fighting at Tarnov, Gorlice, and Jaslo they are hastily retiring behind the Dunajec and the Wisloka. The losses are enormous: the number of prisoners is said to be 40,000.
Friday, May 7, 1915.
The victory of the Austro-Germans at Tarnov, Gorlice, and Jaslo is now reacting on the whole line in the Carpathians to well beyond the Uszok Pass. In a few days the Russians have lost the series of passes and crests they had gained after such tremendous efforts in the winter. The road into Transylvania is now closed to them.
This situation is also reacting on the attitude of the Rumanian Government. Bratiano is sticking to his territorial claims with the most frigid obstinacy. He is obviously calculating that he will force Russia to a flat refusal which he will then utilize to secure the triumph of the policy of neutrality on which he is secretly set.
Saturday, May 8, 1915.
On the Courland front in the north the Germans have started a series of vigorous attacks with a view to preventing the enemy from transferring all his reserves to Galicia. Yesterday they seized Libau, which will give them an excellent naval base for their further operations in the Gulf of Riga.
Sunday, May 9, 1915.
From the Uszok Pass to the Vistula, i.e., on a front of 200 kilometres, the battle is still raging furiously.
The Russians are in retreat all along the line. The speed of their retirement threatens before long to render untenable their positions on the line of the Nida north of the Vistula.
Wednesday, May 12, 1915.
In the Dardanelles the Anglo-French are making methodical progress, digging in each night on the ground won during the day. The Turks are putting up an extremely fierce resistance.
Public opinion in Russia is closely following every detail of the fighting: it does not doubt the ultimate result and thinks it is near at hand. In imagination it already sees the allied squadrons passing through the Hellespont and anchoring off the Golden Horn. It is almost forgetting the defeats in Galicia. As usual, it seeks in dreams an opiate against reality.
Thursday, May 13, 1915.
The Russians are continuing their retreat in a northeasterly direction, but it is a retreat in perfect order and each position is defended. The total number of prisoners left in the enemy's hands in the last ten days is said to amount to 140,000.
Friday, May 14, 1915.
Ministerial crisis in Italy. The Salandra-Sonnino Cabinet has very cleverly submitted its resignation to the King without waiting for the meeting of the Chamber so that the question of the war can be put straight to public opinion and Giolitti's parliamentary intrigues thus foiled.
The advocates of intervention are gaining ground every day.
Sunday, May 16, 1915.
The Germans have captured Jaroslav, which will give them a bridge-head on the San. The Russians are accelerating their retreat east of Kielce and south of the Pilica.
On the other hand at the other end eastern of Galicia the Austrians have suffered a heavy reverse between Kolomea and Czernovitz, and left 20,000 prisoners behind them. The whole area between the Dniester and the Pruth is thus in the hands of the Russians.
Monday, May 17, 19IS
There is intense excitement in Italy. In Rome, Milan, Venice, and Genoa there is a continuous succession of stormy demonstrations which are almost revolutionary in character.
Under the pressure of popular feeling King Victor Emmanuel yesterday refused the resignation of the Salandra-Sonnino Cabinet. Giolitti's plot has thus failed. The only course now open to the "neutralist" Parliament is to bow to the demands of the national instinct.
Tuesday, May 18, 1915.
This morning I resumed with Sazonov our interminable discussion of Rumania's territorial claims and I urged him vigorously to go a little further in the way of concession. But I found him very angry at a telegram he received yesterday from Bucharest he waved it in my face with trembling fingers.
"Bratiano thinks he can get his own way: he's talking of Russia in the most arrogant way and I won't stand it. I know for a fact that he's gone so far as to tell several foreign diplomats that 'it's hardly the moment for Russia to talk so loud!' He's making a great mistake. Russia is a great Power and a temporary check to her armies will not make her forget her duty to herself, her past, her future, and her historic mission."
"If Bratiano has been talking like that he is wrong. But it is just because Russia is a great Power that she cannot raise her point of view too high. The only question at the moment is whether the help of Rumania is useful to us and whether it costs us too much to abandon a little more enemy territory to Rumanian appetite. Let's be frank with each other, my dear Minister! Consider our military situation! Aren't you horrified at this unforeseen and rapid retreat? Don't you realize that you are about to lose Przemysl and that by to-morrow the Austro-Germans will perhaps have crossed the San in force? Are you quite sure that two or three weeks hence you will not bitterly regret having haggled too much over Rumania's help?"
Sazonov's obstinacy seemed to be shaken:
"I'm going to try and find a new formula for further concessions in the Bukovina and on the Danubian bank of the Banat. But I shall make the immediate intervention of the Rumanian army a strict condition of the agreement. I'll give you my answer to-morrow."
Wednesday, May 19, 1915.
Sazonov has given way on the two points still in dispute in the negotiations with Bucharest. He has agreed that the future frontier between Russia and Rumania in the Bukovina shall be the Sereth. He has also admitted Rumania's claim to annex the district of Torontal on the Danubian bank of the Banat; but he has declared once more that the immediate co-operation of the Rumanian army is an absolute condition of this double concession.
Thursday, May 20, 1915.
The Russian General Staff estimate that the Austro-German forces employed against Russia amount to not less than 55 corps and 20 cavalry divisions. Of these 55 corps three have just arrived from France.
Sunday, May 23, 1915.
Italy has declared war on Austria-Hungary.
I went to congratulate my good friend and colleague, Carlotti. I found him radiant. He is in a large measure responsible for the serious step his country has just taken. Ever since the war began he has never ceased to impress on his Government that neither politically nor morally could Italy stand out of the European conflict, that she would dishonour herself and lower her prestige by a shopkeeping neutrality and that her national traditions and vital interests impelled her to declare herself at the earliest possible moment on the side her Latin affinities dictated.
Monday, May 24, 1915.
General Joffre has instructed General de Laguiche to convey to the Grand Duke Nicholas his admiration of the magnificent effort of the Russian armies in the course of the last few weeks: Thanks to their courage and tenacity they have succeeded, without being broken or losing their fighting power, in neutralizing hostile forces very superior in number, inflicting enormous losses upon them and thus rendering the greatest service to the common cause. It is one more fine page in the glorious history of Russia.
Tuesday, May 25, 1915.
The succession of reverses which the Russian army has suffered has given Rasputin his chance of giving vent to the implacable hatred he has long felt for the Grand Duke Nicholas. He is always railing against the Generalissimo, whom he accuses of blank ignorance of the military art and of having no other ambition than to gain an illegitimate popularity with the troops with the ulterior object of supplanting the Emperor. The character and the whole past of the Grand Duke are alone enough to demonstrate the fatuity of this last charge, but I know that it has had some effect on the sovereigns.
I have also found out that of late Rasputin has returned to his old theme: This war is an offence to God! The other evening, when he was holding forth in the house of old Madame G-----, who is one of his most exalted devotees, he declared in the accent of a biblical prophet:
"Russia entered this war against the will of God. Evil be to those who still refuse to believe it! To hear the voice of God all that is necessary is to listen humbly. But when men are strong they are puffed up with pride: they think themselves clever and despise the simple until one day the judgment of God falls upon them like a thunderclap. Christ is angry at all the groans that mount to him from the soil of Russia. But what do they care, the generals, about having moujiks killed; it doesn't prevent them eating or drinking or getting rich. . . . Alas! the blood of the victims will not bespatter them alone: it will bespatter the Tsar himself for he is the father of the moujiks. . . . I tell you, the vengeance of God will be terrible!"
I am told that this dies iræ made everyone present simply shiver with fright. Madame G----- kept on repeating: "Gospodi pomiloui! Lord, have mercy upon us! "
Friday, May 28, 1915
The Austro-German offensive is proceeding uninterruptedly on both banks of the San as well as in the Przemysl sector and the region of Stryj.
For several days a great wave of pessimism has been sweeping over Russia. Public opinion begins to realize all that the Austro-German advance across Galicia means and promises. All the more anxiously is the public gaze turned towards the Dardanelles. Yet the Gallipoli expedition seems to me to have lost something of its power as a mirage and a diversion.
Saturday, May 29, 1915.
The Grand Duke Nicholas Michailovitch, Sir George Buchanan, and the Marquis Carlotti have lunched with me to-day, and we celebrated Italy's entry into the Triple Alliance.
The Grand Duke was in the highest spirits: he held his head high, his cheeks were agreeably flushed, and his voice had a prouder and more resonant ring than ever. Several times he exclaimed:
"We've got Germany now. The wretch won't escape us now!"
And each time, as if to restore the energy he expended on his declaration, he tossed down the glass of Pommard which the butler filled up as fast as he emptied it.
Although he has German blood in his veins through his mother, a Princess of Baden, he hates Germany, German ideas, and the German spirit. His whole intellectual and moral make-up and all his sympathies and tastes incline him towards France. His intense interest in Napoleon I which he puts to such noble purpose in his historical work is only one form of his admiration of the French genius.
When he had settled down for a smoke he continued to talk freely, expressing the same opinions but in another tone. It is a phenomenon I have often observed in my dealings with him. His open-hearted talk and the outbursts of confidence and enthusiasm by which he satisfies the selfless needs of his impetuous nature have almost at once a reaction which expresses itself in cynicism, disparagement, and jealous egotism. It is then that deep down within him one catches a glimpse of a great open sore---his pride---and suspects the uneasy presence of ambitious dreams and hopes unfulfilled. He knows his personal worth, which is above the ordinary, and thinks there is no role he is not competent to fill. At the same time he feels himself slighted and looked down upon, useless and impotent, an object of suspicion to his sovereign and his caste, a guarantor of a political system which he despises but from which he derives enormous advantages. In many ways he deserves the nickname of "Nicholas Egalité," which he often jokes about. Among other resemblances to the Duc d'Orléans he has the same weakness of character. He is too fond of criticism and scandal to be a man of action, initiative or authority: he's a reformer, but only in words. If the course of political events ever brings him into contact with reality, if he ever has to act in a revolutionary crisis, I am afraid he will have to apply to himself the melancholy confession with which Philippe-Egalité replied to the reproaches of his mistress, the lovely and courageous Mrs. Elliott: " Alas! I'm not the leader of my party: I'm its slave!"
Sunday, May 30, 1915.
Thinking of Rasputin's ever-growing power and his evil influence on Russian politics I have sometimes wondered whether the Allies ought not to try and turn the mystical and other gifts of the magician to their own advantage by greasing his palm: we should thus direct his "inspirations" instead of always being inconvenienced, thwarted, and paralysed by them. I confess that I was tempted to try it myself---just as an experiment: but I had to admit that it would be futile, compromising, and also dangerous.
Quite recently I mentioned the matter casually and indirectly to a highly-placed individual, E-----, who had been once more giving free rein to his rabid nationalism in my presence. As he was furiously denouncing the latest impertinences and insanities of Grishka I said to him:
"May I ask you something? Why don't your political friends try to win Rasputin over to their cause? Why don't they buy him?"
He nodded, then reflected a moment and said
"You can't buy Rasputin."
"Is he as virtuous as all that?"
"Oh dear no! The brute hasn't the slightest moral sense and is quite capable of any infamy. But in the first place he doesn't want money; he gets much more than he needs. You know how he lives. What expenses has he besides his little flat on the Gorokhovaia? He dresses like a moujik, and his wife and daughters go about like beggars. His food costs him nothing, as he gets all his meals outside. His pleasures, far from costing him money, bring it in: the beastly women, young and old, by whom he is surrounded are always sending him presents. Besides, the Emperor and Empress are continually giving him presents. And you can imagine what he makes out of the place-hunters who pester him every day to plead their cause. You can see the holy man is not exactly without resources!"
"What does he do with all this money?"
"Well, to begin with, he's very generous: he gives a lot to the poor. He buys land in his village, Pokrovskoïe, and is having a church built there. He also has something in banks---saving up for a rainy day, as he's very nervous about his future."
"What you say confirms me in my notion. You have a hold over Rasputin because he likes adding to his land, building churches, and increasing his investments. Your friends must really try and buy him."
"No, Ambassador, the difficulty is not in offering Rasputin money; he'll take it from anyone. The hard thing is to make him play his part, because he's incapable of learning it. Don't forget he's an uneducated peasant."
"But he's no fool!"
"He has a sort of low cunning. His intelligence is very limited. He understands nothing about politics. You can't make him grasp ideas or reasoning to which he is not accustomed. All sustained conversation or serious and logical discussion with him is impossible. He can only repeat the lesson you've dinned into him."
"Yet he embroiders it in his own way!"
"Yes, he decorates it with obscene gestures and mystical jokes. But the crowd whose tool he is keep watch on him. He knows that he's watched, that his correspondence is opened, and his actions and haunts kept under observation. On the pretext of protecting him the palace police, General Voyeikov's Okhrana, is always on his tracks. And he knows, too, that even in his own gang he has enemies, rivals, and the merely envious who are secretly working to injure him with Their Majesties and bring about his dismissal. He's always terrified that some successor may turn up. You must have heard of the Montenegrin beauty, Father Mordary, and the idiot, Mitia Koliaba, who are the present candidates. And there must be others up somebody's sleeve. Rasputin knows the dangers of his position only too well and is much too cunning not to remain faithful to his party. You may be certain that if any suspicious proposal were made to him he would at once inform Voyeikov."
Our conversation ended there, but I took the subject up again, and almost in the same terms, with S-----, one of my informers who moves in nationalist and orthodox circles in Moscow.
"I'm afraid we may get lower than Rasputin one of these days, worse luck!"
"Is that possible?"
"Don't doubt it! In the realm of the absurd there's no limit. If Rasputin disappeared it's quite possible we should be regretting it before long."
"Who is there to make us regret him?"
"Mitia Koliaba, for example."
As ground for his fears he then gave me certain information about this individual of whom all that I knew was his former relations with the monk Heliodorus of Tsarytsin and Father John of Kronstadt.
Mitia Koliaba is a simpleton, a harmless idiot. a yourodivi like the one who utters the fateful words in Boris Godounov. Born somewhere about 1865 in the neighbourhood of Kaluga, he is deaf, dumb, half-blind, bandy-legged, and deformed, and has only two stumps for arms. His brain, as atrophied as his limbs, conceives but a very small number of ideas which he expresses by guttural cries, stammerings, grunts, roars, squeaks, and a wild waving of his stumps. For several years he was received, from motives of charity, in Optina-Pustyn Monastery, near Kozielsk. One day he was seen to be in a most extraordinary sort of fit with intervals of stupor which resembled a trance. The whole community at once realized that a divine influence was manifesting itself through this rudimentary mind; but no one could get beyond that.
While they were all exhausting themselves in conjectures the secret was supernaturally betrayed to a monk. As he was on the point of kneeling to pray in a dark chapel Saint Nicholas appeared to him and revealed the meaning to be attached to the cries and contortions of the yourodivi: the monk wrote down the exact interpretation under the dictation of Saint Nicholas himself. The community was then amazed at all the knowledge and prophetic instinct revealed in the inarticulate sounds made by the idiot: he knew everything---the past, the present, the future. In 1901 he was taken to Petersburg where the Emperor and Empress highly esteemed his power of foretelling the future although they were then completely under the thumb of the magician Philippe. In the evil days of the Japanese War it seemed as if Mitia Koliaba was marked out for a great part, but some stupid friends thrust him into the epic quarrel between Rasputin and Bishop Hermogenes. He was obliged to disappear for a time to escape the vengeance of his terrible adversary. At the present time he lives among a small and secret, but fervent, sect and is biding his time.
Monday, May 31, 1915.
This afternoon I called on the President of the Duma, Rodzianko, whose fervent patriotism and great energy have often strengthened my faith. But to-day my first impression of him affected me painfully. His face was drawn and there was a greenish hue in his cheeks. As a rule he holds himself well, but now his great height seemed to be under the weight of an excessive load, and when he sat down opposite me he collapsed in a heap. After shaking his head sadly and sighing deeply he said:
"I'm in a dark mood, Ambassador. Oh, nothing's lost, of course! No doubt this trial was needed to shake us out of our slumbers and compel us to pull ourselves together and set our house in order. We shall do so; we shall do so! You have my word for that!"
He then told me that the recent defeats of the Russian army, the terrible losses it has suffered, and the highly dangerous situation in which it is still fighting so heroically have stirred the public conscience to its depths. In the last few weeks he has received from the provinces more than three hundred letters pointing out how alarmed and indignant the country is. In every quarter there is the same complaint: the bureaucracy is incapable of organizing the industrial activities of the nation and creating the war machinery without which the army will go from disaster to disaster.
"So I asked the Emperor for an audience," he continued, "which he was good enough to grant me at once. I told him the whole truth, showed him the whole peril. I had little difficulty in proving that our administration is powerless to solve the technical problems of the war unaided and that recourse must be had to the assistance of private sources to rope in all the live forces in the nation, augment the output of raw material, and co-ordinate the work of the factories. The Emperor was good enough to admit all this and there and then I obtained his consent to an important reform. A Munitions Council has just been established under the presidency of the Minister of War; it consists of four generals, four members of the Duma, including myself, and four representatives of the metallurgical industries. We got to work without losing a moment."
Tuesday, June 1, 1915.
At this time of the year when the northern night is not even two hours long and the atmosphere is as it were saturated with light, Petrograd constantly makes me think of Venice.
With its river, islands, canals, curving bridges, and houses with pink façades, the salty spice of the evening breeze from the Gulf of Finland, the odour of tar, mud, and damp to be perceived on some of the quays, the glorious brightness of the sky and the depth of the aerial perspectives, the transparence and fluidity of the shadows, the magic of the sunsets and the dawns---with all this the spectacle before my eyes makes me think every minute that I am on the Riva degli Schiavoni or the Giudecca.
When I want the illusion to be even more complete I go for an evening walk in the woods at the end of Krestrovsky Island where the estuary of the Neva suddenly widens. This spot is most moving in its solitude. Under a sky dappled with pink and violent clouds the lagoon is a sheet of iridescent waters stretching away to the Gulf of Finland. Not far away the little Volny Island emerges from a grey-green mist in which ruins and a few miserable trees can be distinguished. As the sun drops to the horizon an odour of fever and death rises from the sluggish waters. Not a single human sound. At times the landscape is deathly in its desolation. I might be at Torcello.
Wednesday, June 2, 1915.
I dined quite privately this evening with the most important metallurgist and financier in Russia, the multimillionaire Putilov. I always derive great pleasure and profit from my meetings with this business man whose psychology is most original. He possesses in a high degree the dominating characteristics of an American business man, the creative instinct and spirit of initiative, the craving for vast undertakings, a strict sense of reality and the feasible, values and forces. But he is none the less a Slav in certain intimate sides of his nature and the most pessimistic outlook I have yet met with in Russia.
He is one of the four industrials who are members of the Munitions Council, established at the War Ministry. His first impressions were simply deplorable. It is not merely a technical problem, a question of labour and output which has to be solved. The whole administrative system of Russia must be reformed from top to bottom. We had not exhausted the subject when dinner was over.
The moment the cigars were lit champagne was brought and we discussed the future; he almost revelled in describing the fatal consequences of the imminent catastrophes and the silent work of decadence and dislocation which is undermining the Russian edifice:
"The days of Tsarisin are numbered; it is lost, lost beyond hope. But Tsarism is the very framework of Russia and the sole bond of unity for the nation. Revolution is now inevitable; it is only waiting for a favourable opportunity. Such an opportunity will come with some military defeat, a famine in the provinces, a strike in Petrograd, a riot in Moscow, some scandal or tragedy at the palace. It doesn't matter how! In any case, the revolution isn't the worst peril threatening Russia. What is a revolution, strictly speaking? It is the substitution of one political system for another by violence. A revolution may be a great benefit to a nation if it can reconstruct after having destroyed. From that point of view the English and French Revolutions strike me as having been rather salutary. But with us revolution can only be destructive because the educated class is only a tiny minority, without organization, political experience, or contact with the masses. To my mind that is the greatest crime of Tsarism: it will not tolerate any centre of political life and activity outside its own bureaucracy. Its success in that way has been so great that the day the tchinovniks disappear the whole Russian State will dissolve. No doubt it will be the bourgeois, intellectuals, "Cadets" who give the signal for the revolution, thinking that they're saving Russia. But from the bourgeois revolution we shall at once descend to the working class revolution and soon after to the peasant revolution. And then will begin the most frightful anarchy, interminable anarchy, . . . ten years of anarchy! . . . We shall see the days of Pugatchev again, and perhaps worse! "
1. Count Stackelberg was murdered on March 16, 1917, by a band of mutinous soldiers.
Volume II, Chapter One
Table of Contents