Volume II - CHAPTER II - AUGUST 25-SEPTEMBER 20, 1915
Wednesday, August 25, 1915.
When I went in to see Sazonov this morning, he said at once in the official, non-committal tone:
"Ambassador, I have to inform you of an important decision His Majesty has just come to, but I must ask you to keep it a secret until further notice. His Majesty has decided to relieve the Grand Duke Nicholas of his functions as generalissimo, and appoint him Lieutenant-Governor of the Caucasus, in succession to Count Vorontzov-Dashkov, whose health has compelled him to retire. His Majesty will take command of his armies in person."
"It's not merely an intention, but a definite decision I asked.
"Yes, an irrevocable decision. Yesterday, the Emperor notified the Council of Ministers accordingly, adding that the matter was not open to discussion."
"Will the Emperor actually take command?"
"Yes, in the. sense that in future he will reside at General Headquarters, and the higher direction of operations will emanate from him. But, as regards the details of operations, he will refer to the new Chief of Staff, who will be General Alexeiev. G.H.Q. is also to be brought nearer Petrograd; it will probably be established at Mohilev."
We were silent for some time, gazing intently at each other. Then Sazonov resumed:
"Now that I've told you officially all I had to tell, I can certainly admit, cher ami, that I greatly regret the step the Emperor has just taken. You will remember that at the beginning of the war he was anxious to put himself at the head of his troops, and that all his ministers - and I myself more than any of them - begged him not to do so. The arguments we then used have even greater force to-day. In all probability our trials are by no means at an end. It will take months and months to reorganize our army, and supply it with the means to fight. What may happen before that time comes? How far shall we be compelled to retreat? Isn't it terrifying to think that henceforth it is the Emperor who will be personally responsible for all the misfortunes with which we are threatened? If the inefficiency of one of our generals involves us in a disaster, it will be not merely a military disaster but a political and social one at the same time."
"But what are the Emperor's reasons," I said, " for deciding upon so grave a step, without even desiring to hear his ministers on the subject?"
"He has several reasons. In the first place, the Grand Duke Nicholas has not succeeded in his task. He is energetic, and enjoys the confidence of the troops; but he has neither the necessary knowledge nor vision to direct operations on such a scale. As a strategist, General Alexeiev is far above him. From that point of view, I should have quite understood if Alexeiev had been appointed generalissimo."
"What other reasons are there for the Emperor's decision to take command personally?"
For a moment Sazonov gazed at me with a gloomy and melancholy look. Then he hesitatingly replied:
"No doubt the Emperor wanted to notify us that the hour had come for him to exercise his highest prerogative power: the command of his armies. Henceforward no one will be able to doubt his determination to continue the war, cost what it may. If he has any other reasons, I prefer not to know them."
On these sibylline words I left him.
This evening I have learned-from the most trustworthy source that the dismissal of the Grand Duke Nicholas is the result of long-continued machinations by his archenemy, General Sukhomlinov, ex-Minister for War, who has secretly saved his credit with his sovereigns, notwithstanding his scandalous failures. The course of the military operations, particularly in recent months, has given him only too many pretexts for attributing all the disasters to the army to the incapability of the generalissimo. He it is again who has been helped by Rasputin and General Voyeïkov to make the Emperor and Empress believe that the Grand Duke Nicholas is trying to acquire a mischievous popularity in the army, and even the country, with the ulterior design of being put on the throne by a revolt. The enthusiastic cheers with which the name of the Grand Duke was more than once greeted during the recent disorders in Moscow have given his enemies a very potent argument.
But the Emperor hesitated to take a step so serious as a change in the post of Commander-in-Chief during the most critical phase of a general retreat. The authors of the intrigue then represented to him that there was no time to lose. General Voyeïkov, one of whose responsibilities is the personal safety of his sovereigns, went so far as to claim that his police are on the track of a plot against them, and that the arch-conspirator is said to be one of the officers attached to their personal service. As the Emperor still offered resistance, an appeal was made to his religious emotions. The Empress and Rasputin kept dinning into him that "when the throne and country are in peril, the post of a Tsar autocrat is at the head of his armies. To yield that post to another is to disobey the will of God!" In any case, the staretz, who is a natural chatterbox, is making no mystery of what he has been saying at Tsarskoe Selo; he was talking about it only yesterday at a meeting of his cronies, which he harangued for two hours on end with that sprightly, impassioned and open-hearted verve which sometimes makes him very eloquent. As far as I can judge by the fragments of his discourse which have reached me, the arguments he has used to the Emperor have gone a long way beyond immediate considerations of policy and strategy. What he has done is to put forward a religious dogma. From his picturesque aphorisms, many of which have probably been suggested to him by his friends in the Holy Synod, there emerges a doctrinal theory: "The Tsar is not only the temporal guide and head of his subjects. The holy unction of coronation confers upon him a far higher mission, for it makes him their representative, intercessor and surety before the Sovereign judge. It therefore compels him to take upon himself all the iniquities, as well as all the trials and sufferings of his people - to answer to God for the former and bring the latter to His notice." I can now understand a remark of Bakunin's, which struck me forcibly some time ago: "In the vague conscience of the moujiks the Tsar is a kind of Russian Christ."
Thursday, August 26, 1915.
The Germans have captured Brest-Litovsk; the Russian army is retreating in the direction of Minsk.
Friday, August 27, 1915.
In spite of the strict secrecy enjoined by the Emperor, his decision to take command of the army has already leaked out among the public.
The news has produced a deplorable impression. It is objected that the Emperor has no strategic experience; he will be directly responsible for defeats, the danger of which is only too obvious, and, lastly, he has the "evil eye."
In a somewhat more indefinite form, the news has spread even among the masses. The impression there is even more lamentable; it is being said that the Emperor and Empress do not think themselves safe now at Tsarskoe Selo, and are anxious to seek refuge in the bosom of the army.
In view of all this, the President of the Council has begged the Emperor at least to defer the carrying out of his resolution. The Emperor has consented "for a very short time."
Sunday, August 29, 1915.
For the first time Rasputin has been attacked by the press. Hitherto the censorship and the police had protected him against newspaper criticism. It is the Bourse Gazette which has opened the campaign.
The man's whole past, his ignoble beginnings, thefts, drunken bouts, debaucheries and intrigues, the scandal of his relations with high society, officials and clergy, are ruthlessly exposed. But, cleverly enough, no allusion is made to his intimacy with the Emperor and the Empress.
"How is it possible?" writes the author of these articles.
How has an abject adventurer like this been able to make a mockery of Russia for so long? Is it not astounding to think that the official Church, the Holy Synod, the aristocracy, ministers, the Senate, and the numerous members of the Council of Empire and the Duma have demeaned themselves before this low hound? . . . Is it not the most terrible charge we can level against the regime? Only yesterday the political and social scandals which the name of Rasputin conjures up seemed perfectly natural. To-day Russia means to put an end to all this... ."
Although the facts and incidents related by the Bourse Gazette enjoy the widest notoriety, it is certain that their publication has had a great effect. The public is praising the new Minister of the Interior, Prince Stcherbatov, for allowing this diatribe to appear in print, but everyone is agreed in predicting that he will not hold office for long.
Monday, August 30, 1915.
I have had a talk with General Bielaïev, the chief of the General Staff of the Army. I give a summary of his replies to my questions:
(1) The losses of the Russian army have been colossal. From 350,000 men a month in May, June and July, the figure has risen to 450,000 in August. Since the first defeat on the Dunajec the Russian army has thus lost approximately 1,500,000 men.
(2) The daily supply of artillery ammunition is now 35,000 rounds; it will soon be 42,000.
(3) Russian factories are now producing 67,000 rifles a month; foreign factories are sending 16,000, giving a total of 83,000. Production will remain at that figure until November 15. From that date onwards imports from abroad will be 76,000 a month. The Russian infantry will thus be able to count on a monthly supply of 143,000 rifles.
(4) The German armies operating in the region of Brest-Litovsk do not appear to constitute a threat to Moscow, partly because of the distance (1,100 kilometres) and partly owing to the natural obstacles and the state of the roads in autumn.
(5) For the defence of Petrograd four armies, comprising sixteen corps under the command of General Russky, are disposed along the line Pskov-Vilna. When the Dvinsk-Vilna sector is no longer tenable, the four armies will retire, pivoting on Pskov. In view of these dispositions, and also the imminence of autumn, it is not probable that the Germans will capture Petrograd.
Tuesday, August 31, 1915.
General Polivanov, the War Minister, was sent to give the Grand Duke Nicholas the letter in which the Emperor relieves him of his command. After reading the imperial missive, the Grand Duke made the sign of the cross and simply said: "God be praised! The Emperor releases me from a task which was wearing me out." Then he talked about something else, as if the matter did not concern him. So signal a humiliation could not have been accepted with greater dignity.
Wednesday, September 1, 1915.
The General Assembly of the "Industrial and Commercial Society of Moscow" finished its work to-day by passing a motion in which it declares that (1) the vital interests of Russia require that the war shall be carried on to victory; (2) that it is necessary at once to place in power men enjoying public confidence, and give them a completely free hand. The Assembly ended up by expressing its conviction that "the loyal voice of the people of Moscow will be heard by the Tsar."
This appeal to the Emperor to establish a responsible ministry at once is particularly significant because it emanates from Moscow, the sacred city, and the very heart of Russian nationalism.
What was even more significant was the comments accompanying the vote on the motion, comments the publication of which has just been forbidden by the censorship. The present ministers were treated to violent criticism, and allusions were made to the Emperor himself.
I hear of agitation in working-class centres.
Can the Germano-Bulgarian compact have been sealed already? I am strongly inclined to think so. It is announced from Sofia itself that Duke Johann Albrecht von Mecklenburg-Schwerin has just arrived there, accompanied by a high official of the Wilhelmstrasse. Duke Johann Albrecht is one of the most distinguished of the German princes. He successfully held two important regencies, the Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg and the Duchy of Brunswick. He is the uncle of Queen Alexandrina of Denmark and Princess Cecilie, wife of the Crown Prince. Knowing the character of Tsar Ferdinand, and his overweening notion of his royal prerogatives, I presume that in order to obtain his consent to the decisive step the Teutonic Emperors have thought that they could not do less than send him an ambassador of an ancient royal line. Radoslavov's language and the tone of the official press also show that Bulgaria is preparing to attack Serbia.
Thursday, September 2, 1915.
Countess Hohenfelsen, the morganatic wife of the Grand Duke Paul, who has just been created Princess Paley, telephoned me yesterday evening to ask me to dine with her to-day; she impressed on me that I must accept, as someone wanted to talk to me.
In her drawing-room I found Madame Vyrubova, Michael Stakhovitch and Dimitry Beckendorff. The Grand Duke Dimitry Pavlovitch, who arrived here from General Headquarters this morning, was also of the company.
An atmosphere of gloomy apprehension brooded over dinner. Twice during the meal the palace Swiss, in his heavy scarlet. gold-braided cloak, glided up to the Grand Duke Dimitry, hat in hand, and whispered something in his ear. Each time the Grand Duke Paul gave his son a questioning look, and the latter simply replied
"Nothing.... Nothing yet!" Princess Paley said to me under her breath
"The Grand Duke will be telling you why Dimitry has come from the Stavka; he asked an audience of the Emperor the moment he arrived. It's been impossible to get an answer. The Swiss has just telephoned again twice to the palace office to find out if His Majesty has given any orders. Still nothing! It's a bad omen!"
While coffee was being served in the drawing-room, Madame Vyrubova invited me to sit down by her and said, without any kind of preliminary:
"Of course, you know about the serious decision His Majesty has just taken, Monsieur l'Ambassadeur. Tell me, what do you think of it? His Majesty himself has commissioned me to ask you."
"Is the decision irrevocable?"
"Oh, yes! Absolutely!"
"In that case, any objections of mine would be too late."
"Their Majesties will be very hurt if that's the only answer I may take them. They are so anxious to know your views!"
"But how can I express an opinion about an act when I do not know the real reasons for it? The Emperor must have had reasons of vital importance for adding the terrible responsibility of military leadership to the burden of his usual work. What are those reasons?"
She was taken aback at my question. Fixing two frightened eyes upon me, she stammered out something almost inaudible. Then, in a hesitating voice, she confided in me:
"The Emperor thought that in such a serious crisis it was the Tsar's duty to place himself at the head of his troops, and take all responsibility for the war on his own shoulders. Before reaching that conclusion, he has given much thought and prayer to the matter. At last, after hearing mass a day or two ago, he said to us: Perhaps a scapegoat is needed to save Russia. I mean to be the victim. May the will of God be done. He was very pale as he said this, but on his face was an expression of utter resignation."
These words of the Emperor made me shiver all down my spine. The idea of predestination to sacrifice and complete resignation to the divine will is only too consistent with his passive nature., If our military fortunes continue to prove adverse for a few more months, may it not be that in submission to divine decrees he will find a pretext or excuse for slackening in his efforts, abandoning hope and tacitly resigning himself to any and every catastrophe?
I was silent for a moment, for it was my turn not to know what to say. At length I said to Madame Vyrubova:
"What you have just told me makes it even more difficult to express an opinion on the Emperor's decision, seeing that it is a matter between his conscience and God. In any case, ad the decision is irrevocable, it would serve no purpose for me to criticize it; the important thing now is to make the best of it. In his new post as Commander-in-Chief, the Emperor will perpetually be having opportunities of making not only his troops, but his people - and all his people - realize the necessity of victory. To me, as ambassador of your ally, France, the military programme of Russia is summed up in the oath which His Majesty took on the gospel and the ikon of Our Lady of Kazan on August 2, 1914. No doubt you remember the splendid ceremony in the Winter Palace. When he then renewed the oath of 1812, and swore that he would never sign peace so long as there was one enemy soldier on Russian territory, the Emperor pledged himself to God not to allow his faith to be shaken by any trial, and to continue the war, no matter what sacrifice it cost. Now that his sovereign will is to make itself felt directly in the conduct of operations, that sacred obligation will be easier to keep. In my opinion, it is thus that he will become the saviour of Russia; it is in this sense that I take the liberty of interpreting the message he has received from on high; be so good as to tell him so from me."
She blinked two or three times, in a patent effort to take it all in. Then she took leave of me, as if she were in a hurry to unburden her memory:
"I'm going now to tell Their Majesties what you have just said. Thank you very much."
While she was saying good-night to Princess Paley, the Grand Duke Paul took me into his study with his son.
The Grand Duke Dimitry then told me that he came by special train this morning from the Stavka to inform the Emperor of the deplorable effect which the dismissal of the Grand Duke Nicholas would have on the troops. With his back to the fireplace, and nervously twisting his fingers, he continued to jerk out:
"I shall tell the Emperor everything; I'm determined to tell him everything. I shall even tell him that if he doesn't give up this idea - there's still time - the consequences may be incalculable, as disastrous to the dynasty as to Russia. If all else fails, I shall propose a compromise which, at a pinch, would suit everyone. The idea is my own. I've been lucky enough to get it accepted by the Grand Duke Nicholas, who has once more shown himself a model of disinterested patriotism. Under my compromise the Emperor would assume supreme command, but keep the Grand Duke with him as Quartermaster-General. The Grand Duke has commissioned me to put this proposal before the Emperor... . But you can see that His Majesty is in no hurry to receive me. I asked an audience of him the moment I got out of the train this morning. It is ten p.m. now. Not a word in reply! What do you think of my idea?"
"It seems to me excellent in itself. But I doubt whether the Emperor will agree; I have grave reason for thinking that he is absolutely set on sending the Grand Duke Nicholas away from the army."
"Oh, dear!" sighed the grand Duke Paul. "I share your view, Ambassador, that the Emperor will never agree to let Nicholas Nicolaïevitch work with him."
The Grand Duke Dimitry angrily threw away his cigarette, strode up and down the room, then crossed his arms, and cried:
"Then we're lost! Henceforth it will be the Empress and her camarilla who command at the Stavka! It's maddening."
After a pause, he turned to me:
"May I ask you a question, Ambassador? Is it true that the Allied Governments have intervened, or are on the point of intervening, to prevent the Emperor from taking command?"
"No. The selection of a commander-in-chief is a purely domestic matter."
"I'm glad of that. I was told at the Stavka that France and England were going to demand the retention of the Grand Duke Nicholas. It would have been a huge mistake. You'd have ruined the popularity of Nicholas Nicolaïevitch, and had all Russians - me as much as any of them against you."
The Grand Duke Paul added:
"In any case, it would have been futile. In the Emperor's present state of mind he would stop at nothing, and go to any extreme to carry out his decision. If the Allies objected, he would abandon the alliance rather than allow anyone to dispute his sovereign prerogative, which in his eyes has also the character of a religious duty."
We went back to the drawing-room. Princess Paley asked me:
"Well! What's your conclusion from all you've heard to-night?"
"I haven't any.... When mysticism takes the place of policy it's impossible to prophesy. I'm ready for anything now!
Friday, September 3, 1915.
Twice during the afternoon - once on Troïtsky Bridge, and the second time on the quay of the Yekaterinsky Canal - I passed a Court car, and caught a glimpse of the Emperor and Empress seated far back, with very serious faces. Their presence in Petrograd is such an exceptional occurrence that it made everyone they passed start with surprise.
The imperial couple first went to the Cathedral of the Fortress, where they knelt in prayer at the tombs of Alexander I, Nicholas I, Alexander II and Alexander III. From there they went to the chapel of Peter the Great's house, where they kissed the figure of the Saviour which Peter Alexeievitch always carried about with him. Then they were taken to Our Lady of Kazan, where they stayed a long time kneeling before the miraculous ikon of the Virgin. All these devotions prove that the Emperor is on the verge of taking the critical step he considers essential to the salvation and redemption of Russia.
I have also heard that before leaving Tsarskoe Selo this morning the Emperor received the Grand Duke Dimitry, and categorically rejected the idea of retaining the Grand Duke Nicholas at the Stavka in the capacity of Quartermaster-General.
When I recapitulate all the disquieting symptoms I have recorded in the past few weeks, it seems plain to me that a revolutionary crisis is developing in the heart of the Russian people.
When, in what form, and under what circumstances will the crisis come upon us? Will the direct and immediate cause be a military disaster, a famine, a sanguinary strike, a mutiny in some barracks or a palace drama? I cannot say. But the event seems to me foreshadowed now with the inevitable character of an historical fatality. In any case the probabilities are already so impressive that I think it my duty to warn the French Government. I am therefore sending Delcassé a telegram which recites the dangers of the military situation, and concludes in these terms:
As regards the domestic situation, it is anything but comforting. Until quite recently it was possible to think that there would be no revolutionary disorder before the end of the war. I cannot say the same to-day. The question now is whether, in some more or less distant future, Russia will be still capable of effectively playing her part as our ally. However uncertain this eventuality may be, it must henceforth be a factor in the anticipations of the Government of the Republic and the calculations of General Joffre.
Sunday, September 5, 1915.
Yesterday, the Emperor left for General Headquarters. He takes over the command to-day.
Before leaving, he signed a decree which has amazed and horrified everyone: without a word of. explanation he has dismissed the director of his military household, Prince Vladimir Orlov.
A personal friend of Nicholas II of twenty years' standing, his duties brought him into immediate contact with the daily private life of his sovereign; but, in his dealings with his master, he never ceased to preserve a certain independence of mind, always said exactly what he thought, and consistently opposed Rasputin. Henceforth there will be no one in Their Majesties' entourage who will or can resist the staretz.
Monday, September 6, 1915.
After taking command of all the military and naval forces, the Emperor has issued the following Order of the Day:
To-day I have assumed command of all the military and naval forces operating in the theatre of war.
With firm trust in divine mercy and unshakable confidence in ultimate victory, we shall fulfil our sacred duty of defending our country to the death, and we will never allow Russian soil to be dishonoured.
Given at General Headquarters, September 5, 1915.
He also sent the following rescript to the Grand Duke Nicholas:
At the beginning of the war there were reasons of a political nature which prevented me from following my personal inclinations and immediately putting myself at the head of the army. Hence the fact that I conferred upon you the supreme command of all the military and naval forces.
Before the eyes of all Russia, Your Imperial Highness has during the war displayed an invincible courage, which has given me and all Russians the greatest confidence in you, and roused the ardent hopes with which your name was everywhere associated in the inevitable vicissitudes of military fortune. Now that the enemy has penetrated far into the empire, my duty to the country which God has committed to my keeping ordains that I shall assume supreme command of the fighting forces, share the burdens and toils of war with my army and help it to protect Russian soil against the onslaught of the foe.
The ways of Providence are inscrutable; but my duty and my own desires strengthen me in a determination which has been inspired by concern for the common weal.
The hostile invasion, which is making more progress every day on the western front, demands above all an extreme concentration of all civil and military authority, unity of command during the war, and an intensification of the activities of the whole administrative services. But all these duties distract our attention from the southern front, and in these circumstances I feel the necessity for your advice and help on that front. I therefore appoint you my lieutenant in the Caucasus and Commander-in-Chief of the brave army operating in that region.
To Your Imperial Highness I wish to express my profound gratitude, and that of the country, for all your work in the war.
At the Emperor's express wish, the Grand Duke has gone straight to Tiflis, without passing through Petrograd.
Tuesday, September 7, 1915.
I called to-day on Baroness M - - and found her alone at the piano. With splendid entrain and a sweeping sense of mastery she was playing the fine A flat sonata which Beethoven dedicated to Prince Lichnowsky.
Her firm fingers were attacking that pathetic second variation. On a pleading signal from me from the door, she was good enough not to stop.
When the last chord was triumphantly struck she closed the piano, offered me her still quivering fingers, and in words that seemed to leap straight from her heart cried:
"Rather than give up music I'd give up Russia!"
It is true that Baroness M - - is a Livonian by origin. Yet for more than a century her family has been serving tsarism in high posts at Court or in the army. But that does not prevent her from being a stranger to the Russian family. The cry which her musical emotions wrung from her is only too accurate a gauge of the degree of patriotism which animates some families of the Baltic nobility.
Wednesday, September 8, 1915.
General Djunkovsky, one of the Emperor's aides-de-camp, Commander of the Gendarmerie, representative of the police in the Ministry of the Interior, the most Powerful official in the empire and, incidentally, a man who has contrived to win the esteem of everyone in the performance of his delicate and fearsome duties, has just been dismissed. He has succumbed to the continual attacks of the Empress, who formally accused him of inspiring the onslaught on Rasputin in the press, and secretly promoting the seditious popularity of the Grand Duke Nicholas.
As a matter of fact, General Djunkovsky was long ago damned in the Emperor's eyes through having had the courage to denounce to him the infamies of the staretz, particularly the gross scene which scandalized Moscow last April.
Thursday, September 9, 1915.
The Emperor has inaugurated his assumption of the supreme command with the announcement of a brilliant success which the southern army has just gained over the Germans near Tarnopol. The battle continued five days along the Sereth; the Russian captures comprise 17,000 prisoners and about forty guns.
This change of fortune, coinciding with the change in the high command, has caused great rejoicing among the enemies of the Grand Duke Nicholas. I fear the triumph will be short-lived, as on all the rest of the front, particularly in Lithuania, the German progress is becoming more marked every day.
Friday, September 10, 1915.
Sazonov said to me this morning:
"I am irritated beyond words by the information I am getting from London and Paris about the Bulgarian business. Neither Grey nor Delcassé seems to realize the seriousness of what is brewing in Sofia. We are wasting incredibly precious time in Foreign Office chatter! We ought, without a day's delay, to tell Radoslavov that the so-called "undisputed" zone in Macedonia shall be ceded to Bulgaria after the war, and we will guarantee Bulgaria this accession of territory if the Bulgarian army will attack Turkey in the near future. I am instructing Savinsky to consult his allied colleagues at once, with a view to action in that sense.... Shall we get something done, for once?"
Sunday, September 12, 1915.
The situation of the Russian armies in Lithuania is rapidly growing worse. North-east of Vilna the enemy is advancing by forced marches on Dvinsk via Vilkomir.
Near Sventsiany his cavalry patrols have already reached the railway, which is the sole artery connecting Vilna with Dvinsk, and Pskov with Petrograd. Further south, after fierce fighting at the confluence of the Zelvianka and the Niemen, he is threatening the great Vilna-Pinsk road in the neighbourhood of Lida. Vilna will have to be evacuated at top speed.
I can give certain accurate details of the manner in which Prince Vladimir Orlov found himself deprived, a few days ago, of the confidential post he had held for so many years in the Emperor's personal service.
It was both indirectly and casually that Vladimir Nicolaïevitch heard of his dismissal. The Tsar, when notifying the Grand Duke Nicholas of his nomination as Imperial Lieutenant-Governor of the Caucasus, had added the following post-scriptum to his letter: "You can have Vladimir Orlov, as you like him so much; he may be useful to you on the civil side." The Grand Duke, who was on terms of the greatest intimacy with Orlov, immediately sent an aide-de-camp to ask him the meaning of this unexpected decision.
A few hours later Orlov heard that the Emperor, who was on the point of leaving for General Headquarters, had just struck his name off a list of individuals warned to join His Majesty's train. He had no difficulty in concluding that Nicholas II did not want to see him again. With perfect dignity he abstained from all complaints or recrimination, and set out for Tiflis.
But before taking his departure, he felt that he must speak his mind. In a letter addressed to Count Fredericks, Minister of the Court, he begged the old servant to open the eyes of his sovereign to the infamous rôle of Rasputin and his accomplices, whom he roundly charged with being the tools of Germany. He even had the courage to end his letter by sounding a note of alarm: "The Emperor has not a day to lose in getting rid of the occult forces which are strangling him. If he does not do so, it will be all up with the Romanovs and Russia."
Wednesday, September 15, 1915.
This evening I dined in a non-political house with Maxim Kovalevsky, Miliukov, Maklakov and Shingarev, who are the General Staff and leaders of the Liberal party. In any other country this dinner would have been the most natural thing in the world. But here the gulf between the official world and the progressive elements is so wide that I expect to be severely criticized in proper-minded circles. And yet these men, of unimpeachable honesty and high culture, are everything but revolutionaries; their political ideal is nothing more than constitutional monarchy, Miliukov, for example, the great historian of Russian Civilization, was able to say at the time of the first Duma: "We are not the Opposition against His Majesty, but His Majesty's Opposition."
When I arrived, I found them all gathered round Kovalevsky, talking excitedly and looking horror-stricken; they had just heard that the Government has decided to prorogue the Duma. Thus the great hopes that were entertained six weeks ago, when the session began, have already crumbled into dust; the idea of supervision by the National Assembly has vanished, the establishment of a responsible ministry is merely a wild dream; the "black bloc" has gained the day and personal power, autocratic absolutism and the occult forces have triumphed. The whole of dinner was passed in exploring the melancholy prospects opening with this counter-offensive on the part of reaction.
As we rose from table, a journalist came in to say that the ukase proroguing the Duma was signed this afternoon, and will be published to-morrow. I took Kovalevsky and Miliukov with me into a corner. They confessed to me that in view of the outrage on the national representative assembly, they intended to withdraw from the mixed commissions recently organized in the War Ministry with a view to raising output in the factories.
"The help of the Duma is declined. All right! But henceforth we'll leave the Government the sole and whole responsibility for the war."
I argued hotly that such a course would be ill-timed, and even criminal:
"It's not my place to discuss your motives and political calculations, but, as the ambassador of your ally, France, which entered the war for the defence of Russia, I've the right to remind you that you are in face of the enemy, and ought to refrain from any act or demonstration which might diminish your military effort."
They promised me to think the matter over. As the evening was ending, Kovalevsky said to me:
"The dismissal of the Duma is a crime. If they wanted to precipitate a revolution, this is the right way to go about it."
"Do you think that the present crisis may lead to revolutionary troubles?" I asked.
He exchanged glances with Miliukov and then, levelling his bright, clear eyes at Me. replied:
"So far as it depends on us, there will be no revolution during the war... . But before long, perhaps, it will no longer depend on us."
Left alone with Maxim Kovalevsky, I questioned him about his historical and sociological works. An ex-professor of Moscow University, he has frequently been persecuted for his independent opinions, and about 1887 was compelled to leave his country. He has travelled much in France, England and the United States. He is now one of the most distinguished figures among the Intelligentzia. His studies on the political and social institutions of Russia reveal wide culture, a frank and honest mind and a habit of thought which is speculative, synthetic and accustomed to the discipline of English practicality. His party predict a great future for him when the autocratic regime changes to constitutional monarchy. I imagine that the part he will play will be confined to influence and theory. Like all the leaders of Russian liberalism, Maxim Kovalevsky is too much the dreamer and theorist, and too bookish, to be a man of action. The comprehension of general ideas and a knowledge of political systems are not sufficient qualification for the direction of human affairs; to these must be added a sense of reality, an intuitive realization of what is possible and necessary, the capacity for rapid decisions, resolute intentions, a knowledge of public passions, circumspect audacity - all of them qualities in which the "Cadets" seem to be entirely lacking, for all their patriotism and good will.
As I took my leave, I begged Kovalevsky to neglect no opportunity of advising patience and caution. I asked him, too, to reflect on the melancholy admission which was sighed out in June, 1848, by Duvergier de Hauranne, one of the leaders of the old "Monarchical Opposition," and one of the organizers of the famous "banquet" campaign: "If we had known how thin the sides of the volcano were, we should never have provoked an eruption!"
Thursday, September 16, 1915.
The prorogation of the Duma is published.
The Putilov works and Baltic yards have immediately gone on strike.
Friday, September 17, 1915.
The strikes have extended to-day to almost all the factories in Petrograd. But no disorder is reported. The leaders say that they simply wish to protest against the prorogation of the Duma, and that work will be resumed in two days.
One of my informers, who knows working-class circles well, said to me to-day:
"There's nothing to fear this time, either. It's only a general rehearsal."
He added that the ideas of Lenin and his "defeatist" propaganda are making great headway among the educated elements of the working class.
Sunday, September 19, 1915.
The Russians are continuing their slow retreat along the whole of the immense front from the Baltic to the Dniester.
Yesterday, as a result of a bold enveloping offensive, Vilna fell into the hands of the Germans. The whole of Lithuania is lost.
Monday, September 20, 1915.
The strikes in Petrograd are over.
In Moscow, the Union of Zemstovs and the Union of Towns have passed a resolution demanding the immediate summoning of the Duma, and the formation of a ministry enjoying the confidence of the country."
The news I am getting from the provinces is satisfactory, in the sense that it negatives the probability of a revolutionary movement and, as regards the country generally, reveals an unshaken resolution to continue the war.