Volume I - CHAPTER II - JULY 24-AUGUST 2, 1914
Friday, July 24, 1914.
Tired by these four days of continuous high pressure I was hoping for a little rest and had told my servant to let me sleep on this morning. At seven o'clock, however, the telephone bell woke me with a start: I was informed that Austria had presented an ultimatum to Serbia yesterday evening.
As I was half asleep the news at first produced a curious impression of amazement and authority. The occurrence seemed to me unreal and yet definite, imaginary but authentic. I seemed to be continuing my conversation of yesterday with the Tsar, putting forward my theories and conjectures. At the same time I had a sensation, a potent, positive and compelling sensation, that I was in the presence of a fait accompli.
During the morning details of what had happened in Belgrade began to come in.
At half-past twelve, Sazonov and Buchanan came to the Embassy to confer on the situation. Our discussion was interrupted by lunch but we resumed immediately afterwards. Taking my stand on the toasts exchanged between the Tsar and the President, the declarations of the two Foreign Ministers and the communiqué to the Havas Agency yesterday, I had no hesitation in advocating a Policy of firmness.
"But suppose that policy is bound to lead to war? . . ." said Sazonov.
"It will only lead to war if the Germanic powers have already made up their minds to resort to force to secure the hegemony of the East. Firmness does not exclude conciliation. But it is essential for the other side to be prepared to negotiate and compromise. You know my own views as to Germany's designs. The Austrian ultimatum seems to me to provoke the dangerous crisis I have anticipated for a long time. Henceforth we must recognize that war may break out at any moment. That prospect must govern all our diplomatic action."
Buchanan assumed that his government would desire to remain neutral and was therefore apprehensive that France and Russia would be crushed by the Triple Alliance.
"At the present juncture England's neutrality would be tantamount to her suicide!"
"I'm certain of that," Sir George replied sadly. "But I'm afraid public opinion with us is still far from realizing what our national interests so imperiously require."
I emphasized the decisive part England could play in quenching Germany's warlike ardour; I cited the view the Tsar Nicholas expressed to me four days ago - "Unless Germany has lost her reason altogether, she will never dare to attack Russia, France and England combined." Thus it was urgently necessary for the British Government to announce its adhesion to our cause, which was the cause of peace. Sazonov warmly advocated the same course.
Buchanan promised to make strong representations to Sir Edward Grey in favour of the policy of resistance to Germanic arrogance.
At three o'clock, Sazonov left us to go to Ielaguin Island to which Goremykin, the President of the Council, had summoned the ministers.
At eight o'clock in the evening I went to the Foreign Office where Sazonov was closeted with my German colleague.
A few minutes later I saw Pourtalès come out, his face purple and his eyes flashing. The discussion must have been lively. He furtively shook my hand as I entered the minister's room.
Sazonov was still agitated over the dispute in which he had just been engaged. He has quick, nervous movements and his voice is dry and jerky.
"What's happened? " I said.
"As I anticipated, Germany wholeheartedly supports the Austrian cause. Not the slightest suggestion of conciliation. So I told Pourtalès quite bluntly that we should not leave Serbia to settle her differences with Austria alone. Our talk ended in a very acrimonious tone."
"Yes ... Can you imagine what he had the audacity to tell me? He reproached me, me and all other Russians, with disliking Austria and having no scruples about troubling the last years of her aged Emperor. I retorted: 'No, of course we don't like Austria ... Why should we like her? She has never done us anything but harm. As for her aged Emperor, he owes it to us that he still has his crown on his head. Just remember how he showed his gratitude in 1855, 1878 and 1908 ... What! Reproach us with not liking Austria! That's a bit too much! ' "
"It's a bad business, Minister. If conversations between Petersburg and Berlin are to continue in this strain they won't last long. Very soon we shall see the Emperor William rise in his 'shining armour.' Please be calm. Exhaust every possibility of compromise! Don't forget that my government is a government based on public opinion and can only support you effectively if it has public opinion behind it. And think of English opinion also."
"I shall do everything possible to avoid war. But like you I am very uneasy about the turn events are taking."
"Can I give my government an assurance that you have not yet ordered any military preparations?"
"None whatever. All we have decided is privately to withdraw the eighty million roubles we have on deposit in the German banks."
He added that he would endeavour to obtain from Count Berchtold an extension of the time fixed for the Serbian reply in the ultimatum so that the powers might have an opportunity of forming an opinion on the legal aspect of the dispute and finding some peaceful solution.
The Russian ministers are to meet again to-morrow with the Tsar presiding. I recommended to Sazonov the greatest caution as to the advice he is to give.
Our conversation was enough to soothe his nerves. He continued with calm deliberation:
"You needn't fear! Besides you know the Tsar's caution. Berchtold has put himself in the wrong. It's our business to make him solely responsible for everything that comes. I even consider that if the Vienna cabinet resorts to action the Serbians ought to let their territory be invaded and confine themselves to denouncing Austria's infamy to the civilized world.
Saturday, July 25, 1914.
Yesterday the German ambassadors in Paris and London read to the French and British governments a note to the effect that the Austro-Serbian dispute must be settled by Vienna and Belgrade alone. The note ended thus: The German Government is extremely anxious that the conflict shall be localised as any intervention by a third power may, by the natural operation of alliances, have incalculable consequences.
The policy of threats is already beginning
At three o'clock in the afternoon Sazonov received me with Buchanan. He told us that an extraordinary council was held this morning at Krasnoe Selo, with the Tsar presiding, and that His Majesty has decided in principle to mobilize the thirteen army corps which are ultimately earmarked for operations against Austria-Hungary.
Then he turned to Buchanan very gravely and pleaded with all his might that England should hesitate no longer to range herself on the side of Russia and France in a crisis in which the stake is not merely the European balance of power but the very liberties of Europe itself.
I backed up Sazonov and concluded with an argument ad hominem, pointing to the portrait of the great Chancellor Gortchakoff which adorns the room in which we were talking:
"In July, 1870, on this very spot, my dear Sir George, Prince Gortchakoff said to your father(1) who was warning him of the danger of German ambition: 'There's nothing to worry Russia in the increase of German power.' Don't let England make the same mistake to-day which cost Russia so dear then!"
"You know you're preaching to the converted," said Buchanan with a weary smile.
Public feeling is rising every hour. The following note has been communicated to the Press:
The Imperial Government is closely following the development of the Austro-Serbian conflict which cannot leave Russia indifferent.
Almost simultaneously Pourtalès informed Sazonov that as Austria's ally she naturally supported the legitimate claims of the Vienna cabinet against Serbia.
Sazonov on his part has advised the Serbian government immediately to invite the mediation of the British Government.
At seven o'clock this evening I went to the Warsaw station to say goodbye to Isvolsky who is returning to his post in hot haste. There was a great bustle on the platforms. The trains were packed with officers and men. This looked like mobilization. We rapidly exchanged impressions and came to the same conclusion:
"It's war this time."
When I returned to the embassy I was informed that the Tsar had just ordered the measures preliminary to mobilization in the military areas of Kiev, Odessa, Kazan and Moscow. Further, the cities and Governments of St. Petersburg and Moscow have been declared in a state of siege. Lastly, the camp at Krasnoe Selo has been broken up and from this evening the troops are being sent back to their usual garrisons.
At half-past eight my military attaché, General de Laguiche, was summoned to Krasnoe Selo to confer with the Grand Duke Nicholas Nicholaevich and General Sukhomlinov, the War Minister.
Sunday, July 26, 1914.
When I went to see Sazonov this afternoon my impressions were better.
He had just received my Austro-Hungarian colleague, Count Szapary, and had asked him for "a frank and honest explanation."
Then, article by article, he read through the text of the ultimatum presented to Belgrade, bringing out the impossible, ridiculous and insulting character of the principal clauses. All this in a most friendly tone:
"The intention behind this document is legitimate enough if your only object is to protect your territory against the plots of Serbian anarchists. But its form is indefensible ... "
He concluded with some warmth:
"Withdraw your ultimatum; modify the wording, and I'll guarantee the result."
Szapary seemed moved, even half persuaded by this language, but he reserved the views of his government.
This evening Sazonov is therefore proposing to Berchtold to open direct conversations between Petersburg and Vienna with a view to co-operation in the changes to be made in the ultimatum.
I congratulated Sazonov on having given the conversation such a happy turn. He replied:
"I shall not depart from this attitude. I shall negotiate to the very last moment."
Then, passing his hand across his eyes as if some terrible vision flashed through his mind, he asked me in a trembling voice:
"Honestly between ourselves, do you think we can still save peace?"
"If we had only Austria to deal with I should be hopeful ... But there is Germany. She has promised her ally a great personal triumph. She is convinced that we dare not resist her to the bitter end and that the Triple Alliance will give way as it has always given way. But this time we cannot give way, on pain of ceasing to exist. We shall not avert war."
"Oh my dear Ambassador! It's terrible to think of what's to come."
Monday, July 27, 1914.
In official circles the day has been calm. Diplomacy methodically pursues its ordained course.
Overwhelmed with telegrams and callers, my head in a whirl, I went out before dinner for a walk on the islands. I left my car in the shady and solitary avenue alongside the Ielaguin Palace.
The hour fostered reflection. A soft silken light filtered through the thick, glistening foliage of the great oaks. Not a breath of air stirred in the branches, but every now and then I could smell the damp odours which seem the fresh breath of plants and streams.
My reflections were utterly pessimistic. Whatever I did to fight them they always brought me back to the one conclusion - war. The hour for combinations and diplomatic artifices had gone. Compared with the underlying and remote causes which have produced the present crisis the incidents of the last few days were nothing. Individual initiative existed no longer; there was no longer any human will capable of withstanding the automatic mechanism of the forces let loose. We diplomats had lost all influence on the course of events. All we could do was to try and forecast them and insist on our governments regulating their action accordingly.
Judging by the agency telegrams public spirit in France would appear to be high. No neurotic outbursts, no war fever: a calm, strong confidence; perfect national solidarity. And to think that this is the same country which but a short time back was in ecstasies over the scandals of the Caillaux trial and wallowing in the outpourings of the law courts!
Throughout Russia public feeling is becoming exasperated. Sazonov is trying hard and is still successful in restraining the press. But he is obliged to give the journalists a sop to assuage their hunger and has had to tell them, " If you want, go for Austria, but be moderate towards Germany."
Tuesday, July 28, 1914.
At three o'clock this afternoon I went to the Foreign Office. Buchanan was in conference with Sazonov.
The German Ambassador was waiting his turn to be received. I addressed him quite frankly:
"So you've decided to calm down your ally at last? You're the only one of us in a position to make Austria listen to wisdom."
He protested at once in a jerky voice:
"But it's here that they ought to calm down and stop egging on Serbia!"
"I assure you on my honour that the Russian Government is perfectly calm and ready for any conciliatory solution. But don't ask it to let Serbia be crushed. It would be to ask the impossible."
"We cannot abandon our ally," he darted at me in a dry tone.
"Let me speak freely to you, my dear colleague. This is a grave moment and I think we respect each other enough to have the right to speak our minds without reserve ... . If the Austro-Serbian differences are not composed in twenty-four hours, or two days at most, it means war, a general war, a catastrophe such as the world has never known. This calamity may still be averted as the Russian Government is peace-loving, the British Government is peace-loving and your Government itself claims to be peace-loving."
At these words Pourtalès burst out:
"Yes, indeed, I call God to witness! Germany is peace-loving! For forty-three years we have preserved the peace of Europe! For forty-three years we have pledged our honour not to abuse our strength! And it is we who are now accused of desiring to precipitate war ... History will prove that we have right on our side and our conscience has nothing to reproach us for."
"Have we already got as far as finding it necessary to invoke the verdict of history? Is there then no chance of safety?"
Pourtalès' agitation was such that he could speak no more. His hands trembled. His eyes were a mist of tears. Quivering with anger he repeated:
"We cannot, we will not abandon our ally ... No, we will not abandon her!"
At this point the British Ambassador came out of Sazonov's room. Pourtalès rushed in, looking fierce, without even shaking Buchanan's hand as he passed.
"What a state he's in!" Sir George said to me. "The situation is worse. I don't doubt that Russia will go through with it: she is thoroughly in earnest. I have just been begging Sazonov not to consent to any military measure which Germany could call provocative. The German Government must be saddled with all the responsibility and all the initiative. English opinion will accept the idea of intervening in the war only if Germany is indubitably the aggressor ... Please talk to Sazonov to that effect."
"That's what I'm always telling him."
At that moment the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador arrived. He looked pale. His stiff aloofness towards us was a contrast to his usual easy and courteous affability.
Buchanan and I tried to get him to talk.
"Have you had any better news from Vienna? " I asked. "Can you ease our minds a bit?"
"No, I know nothing more ... The machine is in motion."
Without volunteering any further explanation he repeated his apocalyptical metaphor
"The machine's in motion."
Realizing it was no use pressing I went out with Buchanan. As a matter of fact I did not want to see the minister until he had received Pourtalès and Szapary.
A quarter of an hour later I sent in my name to Sazonov. He was pale and agitated:
"I think things are very bad," he said very bad. It is quite clear now that Austria is refusing to treat with us and Germany is secretly egging her on."
"So you haven't managed to get anything out of Pourtalès?"
"Nothing except that Germany cannot abandon Austria. But am I asking her to abandon Austria? All I ask is simply that she should help me to solve this critical problem by peaceful means. As a matter of fact Pourtalès had lost his self-control; he didn't know what to say; he stammered and looked scared. Why that fear? You and I are not like that; we haven't lost our sang-froid or self-control."
"Pourtalès is agitated because no doubt his personal responsibility is involved. I'm afraid he has helped to drive his government into this terrible adventure by asserting that Russia would not face the music and that if she did not yield - which was unthinkable - France would denounce the Russian Alliance. Now he sees the abyss into which he has hurled his country."
"You're quite certain of that? "
"Practically certain ... Only yesterday Pourtalès assured the Dutch Minister and the Belgian Chargé d'Affaires that Russia would give way and it would be a great triumph for the Triple Alliance. I have this from the best source."
Sazonov heaved a despondent sigh and sat silent. I continued:
"The die is cast so far as Berlin and Vienna are concerned. It's London we must think of now. I do ask you to resort to no military measures on the German front and even to be very cautious on the Russian front until Germany has definitely shown her hand. The least imprudence on your part will cost us England's help."
"That's my opinion too, but our General Staff are getting restless and even now I am having great difficulty in holding them in."
These last words worried me; an idea came into my head:
"However great the danger may be and however remote the chance of salvation, you and I ought to leave nothing undone to save the cause of peace. I do want you to realize that I am in a position which is unprecedented for an ambassador. The head of the State and the head of the Government are at sea. I can only communicate with them at intervals and through very uncertain channels; as their knowledge of the situation is incomplete, they cannot send me any instructions. The ministry in Paris is without its chief, and its means of communication with the President of the Republic and the President of the Council are as irregular and defective as mine. My responsibility is thus enormous and that's why I ask you to pledge yourself henceforth to accept all the proposals France and England may make to you to save peace."
"But it's impossible! How can you expect me to accept beforehand proposals of which I know neither the object nor the terms?"
"I have just said that we must even attempt the impossible to save the cause of peace, so I must insist upon my request."
After a brief hesitation he replied
"All right! I accept."
I regard your undertaking as official and I'm going to wire it to Paris."
"You can do so."
"Thank you. You've taken a great weight off my mind."
Wednesday, July 29, 1914.
I think we have reached the last scene of the prologue to the drama.
Yesterday evening the Austro-Hungarian Government ordered the general mobilization of the army. The Vienna cabinet is thus refusing the suggestion of direct conversations proposed by the Russian Government.
About three o'clock this afternoon, Pourtalès came to tell Sazonov that if Russia did not stop her military preparations at once Germany also would mobilize her army. Sazonov replied that the preparations of the Russian General Staff were the result of the uncompromising obstinacy of the Vienna cabinet and the fact that eight Austro-Hungarian army corps were already on a war footing.
At eleven o'clock to-night, Nicholas-Alexandrovich Basily, Deputy-Directory of the chancellery of the Foreign Office, appeared at my embassy. He came to tell me that the imperious language used by the German Ambassador this afternoon has decided the Russian Government (1) to order this very night the mobilization of the thirteen corps earmarked for operations against Austria-Hungary; (2) secretly to commence general mobilization.
These last words made me jump:
"Isn't it possible for them to confine themselves provisionally at any rate-to a partial mobilization? "
"No. The question has just been gone into thoroughly by a council of our highest military officers. They have come to the conclusion that in existing circumstances the Russian Government has no choice between partial and general mobilization as from the technical point of view a partial mobilization could be carried out only at the price of dislocating the entire machinery of general mobilization. So if to-day we stopped at mobilizing the thirteen corps destined for operations against Austria and to-morrow Germany decided to give her ally military support, we should be powerless to defend ourselves on the frontiers of Poland and East Prussia. Besides, isn't it as much to France's interest as our own that we should be able to intervene promptly against Germany? "
"Those are strong arguments but I still think that your General Staff should take no step without previous discussion with the French General Staff. Please tell M. Sazonov from me that I should like his most serious consideration of this matter and a reply in the course of the night."(2)
Thursday, July 30, 1914.
Basily had hardly got back to the Foreign Office before Sazonov rang up to ask me to send him my First Secretary, Chambrun, "to receive a very urgent communication." At the same time my Military Attaché, General de Laguiche, was sent for by the General Staff. It was 11 :45 p.m.
The Tsar Nicholas had received a personal telegram from the Emperor William this evening and decided to suspend general mobilization as the Emperor William had told him "that he is doing everything in his power to bring about a direct understanding between Austria and Russia." The Tsar has come to his decision on his own authority and in spite of the opposition of his generals who have once more insisted upon the difficulties, or rather the dangers of a partial mobilization. I have therefore informed Paris of the mobilization only of the thirteen Russian corps destined for eventual operations against Austria.
We awoke this morning to find the papers announcing that yesterday evening the Austro-Hungarian army opened the attack on Serbia with the bombardment of Belgrade.
The news has quickly spread among the public and produced intense excitement. I have been rung up from all quarters to ask if I have any detailed information on the matter, whether France has made up her mind to support Russia, and so forth. Excited groups argued in the streets and below my window, on the Neva quay, four moujiks who were unloading wood stopped their work to listen to their employer who read the paper to them. Then all five made long speeches with solemn gestures and indignation writ large all over their faces. They crossed themselves when the discussion came to an end.
At two o'clock this afternoon Pourtalès went to the Foreign Office. Sazonov received him at once and from his first words I guessed that Germany would refuse to put in the restraining word at Vienna which could save peace.
The very attitude of Pourtalès was only too eloquent. He seemed a lost man, for he realizes now the consequences of the uncompromising policy of which he has been the instrument, if not actually the author. He sees the inevitable catastrophe and is collapsing under the weight of his responsibility.
"For Heaven's sake," he said to Sazonov, "make me some proposal I can recommend to my government. It's my last hope!"
Sazonov at once put forward the following ingenious formula:
If Austria will recognize that the Austro-Serbian question has assumed the character of a European question and declare her readiness to delete from her ultimatum the points which encroach upon the sovereign rights of Serbia, Russia undertakes to stop her military preparations.
Still in a state of collapse Pourtalès staggered from the room, stammering feebly and his eyes staring.
An hour later Sazonov was ushered into Peterhof Palace to make his report to the Tsar. He found his sovereign sorely moved by a telegram the Emperor William had sent him during the night. Its tone was almost menacing.
If Russia mobilizes against Austria-Hungary the rôle of mediator which I have undertaken at your urgent request will be compromised, if not made impossible. The whole weight of the decision to be taken now rests on your shoulders and you will have to bear the responsibility for war or peace.
Sazonov read and re-read this telegram and shrugged his shoulders in despair.
"We shall not escape war now! Germany is obviously evading the mediatorial intervention for which we asked her and all she is after is to gain time to complete her military preparations in secret. In these circumstances I don't think Your Majesty can postpone the order for general mobilization any longer."
The Tsar was deadly pale and replied in a choking voice
"Just think of the responsibility you're advising me to assume! Remember it's a question of sending thousands and thousands of men to their death!"
" Neither your Majesty's conscience nor mine will have anything to be reproached with if war breaks out. Your Majesty and the Government will have done everything to spare the world this terrible visitation. But now I feel certain that diplomacy has finished its work. We must henceforth think of the safety of the empire. If Your Majesty stops our preliminary mobilization all you will do is to dislocate our military organization and disconcert our allies. The war will break out just the same at Germany's appointed time - and will catch us in hopeless confusion. "
After a moment's reflection the Tsar said in a firm voice:
"Sergei Dimitrievitch, ring up the Chief of Staff and tell him I order general mobilization."
Sazonov went down to the hall of the palace where the telephone cabinet was and transmitted the imperial order to General Janushkevitch.
It was exactly four o'clock.
The battleship France with the President of the Republic and the President of the Council on board, arrived yesterday at Dunkirk without calling at Copenhagen and Christiania as had been arranged.
At six p.m. I received a telegram dispatched from Paris this morning and signed by Viviani. After once more emphasizing the. pacific intentions of the French Government and imposing caution on the Russian Government, Viviani added: France is determined to meet all the obligations of the alliance.
I went to tell Sazonov, who replied very simply: I was sure of France."
Friday, July 31, 1914.
The mobilization decree was issued at dawn. Enthusiasm is general in the city, in the working-class districts as much as in the rich and aristocratic quarters. I am told there is cheering in the Winter Palace Square and in front of Our Lady of Kazan.
The Tsar Nicholas and the Emperor William are continuing their telegraphic dialogue. This morning the Tsar telegraphed to the Kaiser:
It is technically impossible for me to suspend my military preparations. But as long as conversations with Austria are not broken off my troops will refrain from taking the offensive anywhere. I give you my word of honour on that. To which the Emperor William has replied:
I have gone to the utmost limits of the possible in my efforts to save peace. It is not I who will bear the responsibility for the terrible disaster which now threatens the civilized world. You and you alone can still avert it. My friendship for you and your Empire, which my grandfather bequeathed to me on his deathbed, is still sacred to me and I have been loyal to Russia when she was in trouble, notably during your last war. Even now you can still save the peace of Europe by stopping your military measures.
Sazonov, always on the look out to win over English opinion and anxious to do everything possible up to the last moment to avert war, has accepted without discussion certain changes Sir Edward Grey asked him to make in the proposal put forward to the Berlin Cabinet yesterday. The new draft runs:
If Austria agrees to stop the march of her armies on Serbian territory and, recognizing that the Austro-Serbian conflict has assumed the character of a question interesting all Europe, allows the Great Powers to examine what satisfaction Serbia could give the Austro-Hungarian Government without prejudice to her rights as a sovereign state and her independence, Russia guarantees to maintain her waiting attitude.
At three o'clock in the afternoon Pourtalès requested an audience of the Tsar who asked him to come to Peterhof at once.
Received with the greatest kindliness Pourtalès confined himself to enlarging on the theme set out in the Kaiser's last telegram. "Germany had always been Russia's best friend ... Let the Emperor Nicholas consent to revoke his military measures and the peace of the world would be saved."
The Tsar replied by emphasizing the possibilities for conciliation which Sazonov's proposal, as revised by Sir Edward Grey, still offers for an honourable settlement of the dispute.
At eleven o'clock in the evening Pourtalès presented himself at the Foreign Office. He was received immediately and announced to Sazonov that if within twelve hours Russia did not suspend her mobilization, both on the German and Austro-Hungarian frontiers, the whole German army would be mobilized.
Then with a glance at the clock which showed twenty-five minutes past eleven, he added:
"The time will expire at midday to-morrow."
Without giving Sazonov time to make a single remark he continued in a trembling, hurried voice:
"Agree to demobilize! ... Agree to demobilize! ... Agree to demobilize!"
Sazonov, quite unruffled, replied:
"I could only confirm what His Majesty the Emperor has told you. As long as the conversations with Austria continue, as long as there's any chance of averting the war, we shall not attack. But it's technically impossible for us to demobilize without dislocating our entire military organization. It is a point the soundness of which your General Staff itself could not deny."
Pourtalès went out, scared out of his wits.
Saturday, August 1, 1914.
During yesterday the Emperor William proclaimed Germany "in danger of war." The announcement of the Kriegsgefahrzustand means the immediate calling up of the reservists and the closing of the frontiers. If it is not the official mobilization it is at any rate the prelude and opening move.
On receiving this news the Tsar telegraphed to the Kaiser:
I understand that you are compelled to mobilize but I should like to have the same guarantee from you that I gave you myself - that these measures do not mean war and that we shall continue our negotiations to save the general peace so dear to our hearts. With God's help our long and tried friendship should be able to prevent bloodshed. I confidently await a reply from you.
The time given by the ultimatum expired at midday to-day, but it was not before seven this evening that Pourtalès appeared at the Foreign Office.
His eyes were swollen and he was very red in the face and choking with emotion as he solemnly handed Sazonov a declaration of war, which concluded with this theatrical and mendacious phrase: His Majesty the Emperor, my august sovereign, in the name of the empire accepts the challenge and considers himself in a state of war with Russia.
"This is a criminal act of yours. The curses of the nations will be upon you."
Then, reading aloud the declaration of war, he was amazed to see between brackets two versions, a matter of slight importance in itself. For instance, after the words: Russia having refused to acknowledge ... there was: (not having considered there was any obligation to reply to ... ). And later on, after the words: Russia having shown by their refusal . . . there was: (by this attitude). It is probable that these two different versions have been suggested from Berlin and that owing either to inadvertence or haste on the part of the copyist they have both been inserted in the official text.
Pourtalès was so overcome that he could not explain this curious form which will for ever set the brand of ridicule upon the historic document which was to he the origin of so many evils. When he had finished reading, Sazonov repeated:
"This is a criminal act!"
"We are defending our honour!"
"Your honour was not involved. You could have prevented the war by one word: you didn't want to. In all my efforts to save peace I haven't had the slightest help from you. But there's a divine justice!"
Pourtalès repeated in a dull voice, with a look of desperation:
"That's true ... there's a divine justice ... a divine justice!"
He went on muttering a few incomprehensible words and staggered towards the window which is on the right of the door, opposite the Winter Palace. There he leaned against the embrasure and burst into tears.
Sazonov, trying to calm him, tapped him on the shoulders. Pourtalès stammered:
"So this is the result of my mission!"
Finally he rushed to the door, which he could hardly open with his trembling fingers, and went out murmuring:
A few minutes later I went to Sazonov who described the scene. He also told me that Buchanan had just requested an audience of the Tsar to hand him a personal telegram from his sovereign. In this telegram, King George makes a supreme appeal to the peace-loving nature of the Tsar and begs him to continue his efforts for conciliation. The step has no object now that Pourtalès has handed in the declaration of war. But the Tsar will receive Buchanan at eleven to-night in any case.
Sunday, August 2, 1914.
General mobilization of the French army. The order reached me by telegraph at two o'clock this morning.
So the die is cast! The part played by reason in the government of nations is so small that it has only taken a week to let loose world madness! I do not know - history will judge the diplomatic operation in which I have just been concerned with Sazonov and Buchanan; but all three of us have a right to claim that we have conscientiously done everything in our power to save the peace of the world without, however, sacrificing to it those two other and still more precious possessions, the independence and honour of our countries.
During this decisive week the work of my embassy has been very hard: night has been as busy as day. My staff have been models of industry and self-control. All of them-my counsellor, Doucet, my military attachés, General de Laguiche and Major Wehrlin, and my secretaries, Chambrun, Gentil, Dulong and Robirn, have given me help as active and intelligent as spontaneous and devoted.
At three o'clock this afternoon I went to the Winter Palace where the Tsar was to issue a proclamation to his people, as ancient rites decree. As the representative of the allied power, I was the only foreigner admitted to this ceremony.
It was a majestic spectacle. Five or six thousand people were assembled in the huge St. George's gallery which runs along the Neva quay. The whole court was in full-dress and all the officers of the garrison were in field dress. In the centre of the room an altar was placed and on it was the miraculous ikon of the Virgin of Kazan, brought from the national sanctuary on the Nevsky Prospekt which had to do without it for a few hours. In 1812, Field-Marshal Prince Kutusov, before leaving to join the army at Smolensk, spent a long time in prayer before this sacred image.
In a tense, religious silence, the imperial cortège crossed the gallery and took up station on the left of the altar.
The Tsar asked me to stand opposite him as he desired, so he said, "to do public homage in this way to the loyalty of the French ally."
Mass began at once to the accompaniment of the noble and pathetic chants of the orthodox liturgy. Nicholas II prayed with a holy fervour which gave his pale face a movingly mystical expression. The Tsaritsa Alexandra Feodorovna, stood by him, gazing fixedly, her chest thrust forward, head high, lips crimson, eyes glassy. Every now and then she closed her eyes and then her livid face reminded one of a death mask.
After the final prayer the court chaplain read the Tsar's manifesto to his people - a simple recital of the events which have made war inevitable, an eloquent appeal to all the national energies, an invocation to the Most High, and so forth. Then the Tsar went up to the altar and raised his right hand toward the gospel held out to him. He was even more grave and composed, as if he were about to receive the sacrament. In a slow, low voice which dwelt on every word he made the following declaration:
"Officers of my guard, here present, I greet in you my whole army and give it my blessing. I solemnly swear that I will never make peace so long as one of the enemy is on the soil of the fatherland."
A wild outburst of cheering was the answer to this declaration which was copied from the oath taken by the Emperor Alexander I in 1812. For nearly ten minutes there was a frantic tumult in the gallery and it was soon intensified by the cheers of the crowd massed along the Neva.
Suddenly the Grand Duke Nicholas, generalissimo of the Russian armies, hurled himself upon me with his usual impetuosity and embraced me till I was half crushed. At this the cheers redoubled, and above all the din rose shouts of "Vive la France! ... Vive la France! ... "
Through the cheering crowd I had great difficulty in clearing a way behind the sovereigns and reaching the door.
Ultimately I got to Winter Palace Square where an enormous crowd had congregated with flags, banners, ikons, and portraits of the Tsar.
The Emperor appeared on the balcony. The entire crowd at once knelt and sang the Russian national anthem. To those thousands of men on their knees at that moment the Tsar was really the autocrat appointed of God, the military, political and religious leader of his people, the absolute master of their bodies and souls.
As I was returning to the embassy, my eyes full of this grandiose spectacle, I could not help thinking of that sinister January 22, 1905, on which the working masses of St. Petersburg, led by the priest Gapon and preceded as now by the sacred images, were assembled as they were assembled to-day before the Winter Palace to plead with "their Father, the Tsar" - and pitilessly shot down.
On this July 29 the Tsar Nicholas, obeying the promptings of his heart and feeling disinclined to consult anyone, telegraphed to the Emperor William a proposal to refer the Austro-Serbian dispute to the Hague Tribunal. The Kaiser had only to accept this suggested arbitration and war would have been definitely averted. But he did not even reply to the Tsar's proposal.
Events then moved at such a pace that Nicholas II omitted to inform M. Sazonov of the personal step he had thought it his duty to take.
The telegram of July 29 was not discovered among the Tsar's papers until January 30, 1915; it was at once published in the Official Messenger of the Empire.