Rasputin the man - The reasons for his influence and its consequences.
Our memories are sometimes full of light and sometimes dark with shadow. In an eventful life some are sad and some are gay, some are pleasant, while others are so tragic that one's sole desire is never to recall them.
I wrote The End of Rasputin in 1927 because it was necessary to put an end to the garbled versions, entirely devoid of truth, which were being circulated about the Imperial family. I would not return to the subject now were it possible for me to omit it from my story. But in view of the importance and seriousness of the matter, I must pause for a moment before going on with my narrative. Let me recall the essential facts.
The political role played by Rasputin has been much discussed; his personality and the secret which lay behind his scandalous power are less well known. Before going over the principal episodes of a tragedy which had its epilogue in the cellars of my house, I think I should give a description of the man whom the Grand Duke Dmitri, Purishkevich and I had decided to destroy.
Left: A letter written by Rasputin.
Born in 1871 at Pokrovskoe, a village on the Western Siberian border, Gregory Efimovich Rasputin was the son of a drunken horse-thieving moujik, called Efim Novy. Gregory was a horsethief like his father, a varnak they call it in Siberia, which is a is a deadly insult. In early youth his companions had nicknamed him Rasputnik (i.e. profligate, rake) - and the name stuck to him. He received many a thrashing at the hands of the peasants and had often been publicly whipped by order of the county magistrate, but this only seemed to make him tougher.
He came under the influence of a priest who awakened the mystic in him; but his conversion lacked sincerity. Owing to his brutal, sensual nature he was soon drawn to the sect of the Flagellants or Khlystys. They claimed to be inspired with the Word and to incarnate Christ. They attained this heavenly communion by the most bestial practices, a monstrous combination of the Christian religion with pagan rites and primitive superstitions. The faithful used to assemble by night in a hut or in a forest clearing, lit by hundreds of tapers. The purpose of these radenyi, or ceremonies, was to create a religious ecstasy, an erotic frenzy. After invocations and hymns, the faithful formed a ring and began to sway in rhythm, and then to whirl round and round, spinning faster and faster. As a state of dizziness was essential for the "divine influx," the master of ceremonies flogged any dancer whose vigor abated. The radenyi ended in a horrible orgy, everyone rolling on the ground in ecstasy, or in convulsions. They preached that he who is possessed by the "Spirit" belongs not to himself but to the "Spirit" who controls him and is responsible for all his actions and for any sins he may commit.
Rasputin was particularly well suited to receive the "divine influx." In his own courtyard he built a windowless house, which he said was for a bania or steam bath, and held mysterious meetings there-doubtless some form of radenyi-where he used to give himself up to all sorts of mystico-sadistic practices.
He left his village after having been denounced by a priest; he was then thirty-three. He left on foot as a pilgrim, and in this guise visited the principal Siberian and Russian monasteries, In order to acquire a reputation for saintliness he made use of everything, even his monstrous sexual lapses, which he expiated by spectacular and terrible penances. After the fashion of Hindu fakirs, he underwent privations to develop his strength of will and his hypnotic powers. In monasteries he studied the Bible. His lack of culture was replaced by a prodigious memory, which enabled him to learn by heart long passages that he was incapable of understanding, but with which he managed to bluff, not only simple folk, but also scholars and even the Tsarina.
In St. Petersburg he was received at the Monastery of Alexander Nevsky by Father John of Kronstadt, who was at first completely taken in by him. Father John thought that this young Siberian disciple possessed "a spark from God."
The first visit to the capital opened up new perspectives for this crafty, unscrupulous peasant. He went back to his native village with increased ambition and a well-filled purse. His earliest associates had been dissolute priests, more or less enlightened; but little by little he managed to get in with the higher clergy and with the mothers superior of convents who believed that he was "stamped with the seal of God." But this did not change him and he was still up to his old tricks. At Tsaritsyn he raped a nun, under pretense of exorcising her. At Kazan he was seen coming out of a brothel, pushing a naked woman before him and whipping her with a belt. At Tobolsk be seduced the devout wife of an engineer and inspired her with such an extravagant passion that she went about proclaiming her love and glorying in her shame. She considered it an honor that the Saint should have deigned to notice her, and held her relations with him to be one of God's gifts.
His reputation for holiness increased daily. Crowds knelt as he went by: "Our Christ, our Savior, pray for us miserable sinners! God will hear you..." He answered: "In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, I bless you, little brothers. Fear not! Christ will come again soon. Possess your souls in patience in memory of His Agony! For love of Him, mortify your flesh!..."
Such was Rasputin in 1905. Then through a devout but childishly simple young missionary he met the Archimandrite Theophan, rector of the Theological Academy of St. Petersburg, and the Tsarina's confessor. This honest and pious prelate took him under his protection.
The Siberian prophet soon gathered around him a clique of worldly idlers, given over to occultism and necromancy. The two Montenegrin Grand Duchesses were among the first and most fervent admirers of the "man of God." It was they who, in 1900 , had introduced the occultist Philippe to the Court of Russia; now again, it was they who presented Rasputin to the Tsar and Tsarina, backed by the Archimandrite Theophan who spoke of him in the following terms:
"Gregory Efimovich is a simple man. Your Majesties will profit by listening to him, for the voice of the Russian land speaks through his lips. I know that he has much to account for. He has sinned and his sins are innumerable and sometimes very black; but each time his repentance is so fervent, and he has such a childlike faith in divine mercy, that I can vouch for his salvation. Each time he repents, he becomes as pure as a newly christened child. God has him in His hands."
Rasputin very shrewdly made no attempts to make himself look other than a peasant. As he himself said: "A moujik in clumsy boots entered the Palace and trod its marble floors."
His influence over the Tsarina was not due to flattery; far from it. He spoke roughly to her, with bold and even vulgar familiarity, "the voice of the Russian land." M. Paleologue, then French Ambassador in St. Petersburg, relates that, having asked a lady whether she had fallen under the starets' charm, she replied: (*Quoted from The Russia of the Tsars, by Maurice Paleologue.)
"I? Not in the least! He disgusts me physically, with his dirty hands, coal-black nails and unkempt beard. Ugh! Yet I admit he amuses me. He has high spirits and a remarkable imagination. He is even very eloquent at times; he has a vivid gift of expression, a deep sense of mystery. He can in turn be familiar, scoffing, violent, joyful, absurd and poetical. And with all that, no affectations. On the contrary, an incredible lack of manners, a staggering cynicism."
Anna Vyrubova, lady-in-waiting and intimate friend of the Tsarina, rapidly became Rasputin's friend and ally. I have already mentioned this unattractive girl who as Anna Taneyeva was one of my early playmates. She became lady-in-waiting to the Tsarina in 1903, and four years later married a naval officer, Vyrubova. The marriage was celebrated with great pomp in the palace chapel at Tsarskoe Selo; the Tsarina was the bride's witness. A few days before the ceremony, the Tsarina had insisted upon Anna having an interview with Rasputin. On giving her his blessing, Rasputin said to the fiancee: "Your marriage will not last long, and you won't be happy." This prophecy came true.
The young couple settled at Tsarskoe Selo, in a villa near the Alexander Palace. When Vyrubova came home one evening, he found the door of the house closed and was told that the Empress and Rasputin were there with his wife. He waited for them to leave before entering, and then made a violent scene, for he had strictly forbidden his wife to have the starets in the house.. It is said that he even struck her. Anna ran away and took refuge with the Tsarina, imploring her protection against her husband who, she said, wanted to kill her. She was quickly granted a divorce.
This affair caused a great scandal because of the personages involved, and its consequences were disastrous. The Tsarina sided with her protegee, and Rasputin took advantage of this to subjugate Anna once and for all, and she became a docile instrument in his bands.
Anna Vyrubova was not worthy of the friendship shown her by the Tsarina. No doubt her attachment to the Tsarina was sincere, but it was far from being disinterested. It was that of a servile and intriguing woman for a worried and ailing mistress, whom she did her utmost to isolate from those who could have been her friends by making her distrust them.
Her intimacy with the Tsarina gave Anna a privileged position, and Rasputin's appearance on the scene awoke new ambitions in her, She was not intelligent enough to have any political designs, but the idea of playing the important role of a go-between went to her head. Through her, Rasputin was kept informed of the Emperor's and Empress' most intimate secrets, and it was she who facilitated his many intrusions into affairs of state.
The starets' influence soon spread to political circles. Petitioners of all sorts besieged his house: high officials, members of the clergy, fashionable women, and so on...
He found a valuable assistant in the person of a Tibetan therapist called Badmaiev, a most disreputable man who practiced medicine illegally, and claimed to have brought from Tibet all sorts of medicinal plants and magic formulas which he said he had extorted with much trouble from the wise men of his native land. The truth was that he made these nostrums himself, procuring the ingredients with the complicity of a chemist. He dealt in narcotics, anesthetics and aphrodisiacs, which he christened: "Tibetan Elixir," "Balm of Nyen Tchen," "Essence of Black Lotus," etc. These two charlatans were well fitted to work together.
When disaster threatens, circumstances seem to combine to hasten it on..
The calamitous war with Japan, the disorders of 1905, the Tsarevich's illness - all these were so many misfortunes which in the mind of the unhappy Tsarina made it more and more necessary to resort to the help of the Almighty. This was Rasputin's opportunity - this and the Tsarina's fatal blindness to the evil in him. The reason for this needs explaining.
Princess Alice of Hesse entered Russia behind a coffin, that of her father-in-law. Her husband was the emperor of a country she knew nothing about, whose language she did not speak, whose people she did not know. She was inevitably the focus of all eyes, the center of all interest, and this increased her natural timidity and nervousness, which were mistaken for coldness and indifference. She was considered haughty and disdainful. A mystical belief in her mission and an intense desire to help her husband who was deeply affected both by his father's death and by the weight of the Imperial crown-caused her to intervene in affairs of state. This led people to accuse her of a love of power, and to reproach the Tsar with not exercising it sufficiently. When she realized that she had failed to gain the affection of the Russian people, and especially that of the court and the aristocracy, the young Tsarina retired within herself more than ever.
Her conversion to the Orthodox religion developed her natural tendency to exalted mysticism, which made her an easy prey for a Rasputin, just as she bad previously been the prey of occultists such as Papus and Philippe. But the Tsarevich's terrible illness and Rasputin's mysterious power to give him relief did more than anything else to make the unfortunate Tsarina a passive tool in the hands of the "man of God." Nothing could shake her faith in the man she considered the savior of her child, the guardian of his health. And the son for whom she had waited so many years, and for whose life she never ceased to tremble, was the heir to the throne! It was by playing on the feelings of a father and a mother who were racked by anxiety for their son and for the future of the dynasty that Rasputin succeeded in reigning supreme over all the Russias.
There is no doubt that the starets possessed hypnotic powers. Stolypin, the Minister of the Interior, who waged a determined war against him, tells how Rasputin, when he had been sent for, attempted to hypnotize him:
"He ran his colorless eyes over me, muttering mysterious and incoherent passages from the Bible, and making strange passes in the air with his hands. I was conscious of a growing feeling of intense antagonism and repulsion for the scoundrel who sat facing me; he was just beginning to gain an ascendancy over me when I managed to regain control over myself and, cutting him short, bluntly told him he was completely in my power."
Stolypin was assassinated a few months after this interview; he had already had a narrow escape when an attempt was made on his life in 1906.
Rasputin's scandalous behavior, his occult influence over the Imperial couple, his obscene morals, stirred the indignation of the more clearsighted people in St. Petersburg. The press itself, braving the censor, denounced the starets' infamous conduct.
Rasputin thought it would be wise to make himself scarce, for a time at least. In March 1911 he seized his pilgrim's staff and left for Jerusalem, and thence for Tsaritsyn where he spent the summer with one of his cronies, a monk by the name of Illidor. When he came back at the beginning of the following winter, he resumed his dissolute life.
The alleged holiness of the starets could deceive only those who had no direct contact with him. The coachmen who drove him and his women to the public baths, the servants who waited on him during his nocturnal orgies, the secret police who guarded him, all these knew him as he was, and for what he was. It is easy to imagine how this knowledge was exploited by the revolutionary party.
Many of those who had been among Rasputin's partisans saw him at last in his true colors. Archimandrite Theophan deeply regretted his mistake and could not forgive himself for having introduced Rasputin to the court. With great courage he spoke out against him, but merely succeeded in having himself exiled. About the same time the Episcopal See of Tobolsk was given to a venal and ignorant peasant, an old friend of Rasputin; this was done to enable the head of the Holy Synod to recommend the starets for holy orders. This roused the Orthodox Church. Monsignor Hermogen, Bishop of Saratov, was particularly violent. Seconded by a group of priests among whom was the monk Illidor, the starets' former companion, Bishop Hermogen had a stormy interview with Rasputin in the course of which he told him exactly what he thought of him. "Limb of Satan! Sacrilegious scoundrel! Fornicator! Foul beast!" Rasputin endeavored to give as good as he got, with a torrent of filthy abuse. Monsignor Hermogen, a giant, struck him on the head with his pectoral cross: "Down on your knees, villain!... On your knees before the holy icons ... Ask God's forgiveness for your foul sins! Swear that you will never dare to pollute our beloved Tsar's palace with your presence!..."
Terror-stricken and covered with blood, Rasputin beat his breast, muttered prayers and swore to everything they wanted. But no sooner had he made his escape than he ran to TsarskoieSelo to complain. His vengeance was swift: a few days later Monsignor Hermogen lost his bishopric, Illidor was arrested and confined in a penitentiary. But as a result of this agitation Rasputin was never ordained.
After the Church, it was the Duma's turn to attack him. Representative Purishkevich cried: "I would gladly sacrifice myself and kill that scoundrel!" Vladimir Nicholaevich Kokovtsov, the Prime Minister, appealed to the Tsar and entreated him to send Rasputin back to Siberia. The same day, Rasputin telephoned an intimate friend of Kokovtsov's: "Your friend the Prime Minister tried to frighten Papa about me this morning, but with no success. Papa and Mamma still love me. You can tell this to Vladimir Nicholaevich from me." Kokovtsow was dismissed in 1914 under pressure from Rasputin and his gang.
The Tsar realized, however, that it was necessary to make some concession to public opinion. For once he stood firm in spite of the Empress' disapproval, and Rasputin was sent back to his village in Siberia.
For two years the starets put in only brief appearances in St. Petersburg, but in spite of his absence he continued to be consulted and obeyed. He had given the following warning as he left: "I know that evil people are lying in wait for me. Don't listen to them! If you forsake me, you'll lose your son and your crown within six months."
A friend of the starets is supposed to have had in his possession a letter from the occultist Papus to the Tsarina. It was written toward the end Of 1915 and the last sentences were: "From a cabalistic point of view, Rasputin is a vessel similar to Pandora's box; this vessel contains all the vices, all the crimes, all the faults of the Russian people. If it were ever to be broken, its frightful contents would immediately spread all over Russia."
During the autumn of 1912 while the Imperial family was staying at Spala, in Poland, an apparently slight accident caused a terrible attack of hemophilia which endangered the Tsarevich's life. Priests prayed night and day in the church at Spala; a service was held in Moscow before the miraculous icon of the Blessed Virgin of Iverskaya; in St. Petersburg the people prayed incessantly at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan. Rasputin, who was in constant touch with Spala, telegraphed the Tsarina: "God has seen your tears and heard your prayers. Do not grieve: your son will live." The next day the child's temperature went down; two days later be was out of danger, and the poor Tsarina's faith in the "holy man" was naturally intensified.
In 1914, Rasputin was stabbed by a peasant woman and his life was in danger for several weeks. Against all expectations his wound healed, and in September he was seen again in St. Petersburg. At first it seemed that he had lost some of his authority. The Tsarina was busy with her war work, her ambulance, her hospital train. Those around her said that she had never been in better health. Rasputin never went to the palace without first telephoning: a new development which everyone noticed and many rejoiced over. But around him gravitated a whole party of influential persons who had linked their fortunes with his, and soon he was more powerful than ever.
In July 1915 Sasarin, the new head of the Holy Synod, informed the Tsar that it would be impossible for him to continue in office if Rasputin persisted in giving orders to the ecclesiastical administration. He obtained permission from the Sovereign to send Rasputin away, but a month later the starets was back.
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