I have drawn up this sketch of the late Emperor Nicholas and of some of the persons and events connected with him partly in diary form because as such it gives the true impressions which I gathered from time to time during the years of war which I spent with the General Headquarters of the armies in Russia.
I probably saw him oftener and knew him more intimately than most others, outside his immediate 'entourage,' during the period of his command in the field, when his long absences from the capital made it also necessary for me to be the intermediary on other than purely military matters.
When I was suddenly dispatched to Russia on that early day in August 1914 I had but a very sketchy idea of the country and its people. Interest, however, I had from the history of my ancestor who was ambassador there and a friend of the great Empress Catherine. On my arrival I found that there was still around one some of that halo of mystery which was attached to the days when she addressed her letters to him as 'Madame' and he to her as 'Monsieur.'
I expected to find secrecy and difficulties at every corner, and an Imperial family weighed down with care, anxieties and the fear of an anarchist's bomb or an assassin's knife.
My acquaintance with the Emperor, Empress and their children revealed quite another aspect. It was that of an apparently happy, and certainly a devoted, family. Revolution, too, was a word so commonly used in the country, and the prophets of it so numerous, that possibly familiarity bred contempt, one became too sanguine, and assured that anyhow till the war was ended the country would hold together.
With a pre-war population of about 83,000,000, covering an area of 8,500,000 square miles, it was possibly but little wonder that people talked of 'the Russian steamroller.'
The popularity and enthusiasm evinced in favour of the Allies' cause - in marked distinction to the case of the previous war (against Japan) - gave one the hope that Russia had now found herself in a position to get through the great ordeal with a success which would not only bring glory on herself, but a closer and more friendly attitude towards those of the Mies with whom the ties of friendship had not hitherto been very marked.
The granting of a Duma or Parliament had been a step in the right direction, and though it was so tied in its powers that it had become very little of a 'free institution,' the hope existed of an improvement in that direction, approaching more nearly to similar institutions elsewhere.
The stories of the drink scourge which had militated against the success of the Russian armies in the war with Japan were to be refuted in this campaign by the strong and stern measures taken, at great risk by the Emperor, for the abolition of vodka. The success of this measure was quickly proved, not only by the unfailing sobriety of the soldiers, but by the increase of funds in the savings banks of the peasants, who formed the great nucleus of the armies.
There were signs, too, that Poland, upon which unfortunate country were to fall some of the heaviest blows of the war, was to receive anyhow a form of self-government, which she had long awaited, and would bring her people into a more friendly relationship with Russia, thus deciding them on a strong and united action against the enemy at her gates.
The Minister for War at the time of the ultimatums had issued statements which gave reason to the general public to suppose that the armies were ready up to " the last button on their gaiters.'
When, therefore, the Grand Duke Nicholas took the field as Commander-in-Chief the omens were good to people in general.
True, there was talk of pro-Germanism and of Court intrigue - but the spirit generally of the nation at large was one of enthusiastic optimism. It was almost, if one may use such a false expression, the idea of a short war and a merry one.
The unselfish action of the Grand Duke to help the cause of the Allies at grave risks to his own army by his attacks on the north-west front made the Russians still more popular.
But suddenly and as a complete surprise, except to those 'in the know,' came the story of shortness of munitions, not entirely owing to the immense expenditure - which in this war came as a surprise also to others of the Allies-but to corruption.
Then people began to shake their heads. What was the use of a steam-roller with no oil to run its works?
As usual they began to look about for someone to blame.
While the interminable delays incidental to carrying through business in a country which is neither inclined to, nor apt in, carrying out business on the same lines as other countries, took place, there was plenty of time for gossip and scandal. Stories of treachery, of pro-Germanism at Court, and of the evil influences of Rasputin filled the air. Now it was the fault of the Minister; from his shoulders the fault was switched on to those of the Allies, and so the undercurrent of growls and grumbles began to assume a more threatening form.
The country was disturbed and anxious, advance and success gave way to retreat and failure, through no fault of the Commanderin-Chief or his soldiers.
Where then was the fault ?
It lay principally in the administrative side of the campaign. That meant munitions, supplies, roads and railways, communications in general.
The last four affected the civil population as well as the military, and the dealing with large numbers of refugees, who embarrassed the military side of affairs. Food and fuel, those two arbiters between content and discontent, meant, especially in a Russian winter, the greatest of care, the greatest of economy, and a thorough and tireless system.
Which was to have precedence of supply, the army or the civil population? And in what degree?
A resolute and iron hand was necessary in these matters, but one which must be prepared to recognise that the odds were on corruption against co-operation.
Even when the man was found it had become a case of time and tide wait for no man, and loyalty and sincere endeavours had been undermined by the disloyalty and intrigues fostered by the enemy and the discontented.
Momentary successes cheered them on, but they could be but momentary, and it was at a period such as this that the Emperor came on to the field. For a time it seemed as if the tide of luck was running in his favour, but the roots of revolution were too deeply planted, and the soil in which they grew too adaptable and prolific to permit of any serious hope for him.
Corruption and intrigues have existed in every country, even our own not having had a very clean sheet in old days. Russia had retained a fuller share of these bad qualities.
The natures and characteristics of the two peoples are different.
The Russians, attractive and likeable as they are in most ways, are by nature more unstable. Their descent from exaltation to intense depression is a very short one; or perhaps one should put it the other way about, though in these days the cloud of depression is a pretty long and heavy one.
The attraction which binds one to them can only really be experienced by a residence in the country itself, however much one may like them on meeting them elsewhere.
Hospitality, kindness, sympathy one found everywhere, and it sometimes strikes me that it is this intense desire to please, to make you happy and at home, which makes for weakness and want of stability.
Anyhow, that is my experience of the country before Bolshevism took over the reins.
The pages -which follow are neither intended for a form of apologia nor of contention with others who have written about and criticised the late Emperor.
But much has been said about him by people who were not so closely associated with him as I was. Much has been adverse.
One of his critics gave me - after a stay of twenty-four hours in Russia-an account of him which made me think he had spent those hours in the gutters of Petrograd, for nowhere else could he have gathered information which was as unjust as it was untrue, and as malicious as it was mistaken. This, too, was before the Revolution.
Whatever the mistakes of the Emperor, they did not arise from want of devotion to his country or to the cause of the Allies.
Everyone, I suppose, has shadows which pass before them at times like "ships that pass in the night." To me one of the darkest of these shadows is that of the late Emperor of Russia and those who belonged to him.
The sunbeams that light them up are the unfailing kindness which he always showed me in times of personal or other trouble, his sunny and cheerful nature, and his unfailing courage when things seemed to be going badly.
His loyalty to the Allied cause was only equalled by his determination to fight out the war to the bitter end.
It is for others to 'cast stones.' I can only give a true view of what I saw of him. My happy memories of him are darkened by the tragedy of his end and the regret that I could do no more to save him and his family in the days when their fate may still have been said to hang in the balance.
Many of my notes could not, of course, for obvious reasons, be published, but such as are here are not picked out to give a onesided view of a much-maligned monarch, but simply as traits of his character which may be of interest, and are anyhow as I found them.
Autocracy has met its end in Russia.
These notes are in no way the defence of a system. They are a defence of a person.
'Mr Critic' will at once answer: 'Yes, that is all very well, but the two, in a case of this kind, are so closely allied that it becomes impossible to differentiate between them.'
That in a way is true, but hitherto the scales of Justice have been rather heavily weighted against the man-as between man and system.
It is to endeavour in some measure to readjust the balance that I publish these reminiscences.
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