Volume II - CHAPTER VI - JANUARY 27-FEBRUARY 24, 1916
Saturday, January 1, 1916.
The Serbian Minister, Spalaïkovitch, has just been to see me; his face was haggard and his eyes were bright with fever and tears. Utterly overcome, he sank into the chair I offered him:
"Do you know how our retreat ended?" he said. "Have you heard the details? ... It's been an unspeakable martyrdom!"
This morning he received news of the tragic passage of the Serbian army across the ice-covered Alps of Albania, in blinding snowstorms, without shelter or food, worn out by fatigue and suffering and leaving the road behind it strewn with corpses. And when at length it reached San Giovanni di Medua, on the Adriatic, it found a crowning horror awaiting it, famine and typhus.
Bending over a map I had spread out between us, he showed me the track of this melancholy flight:
"Just look," he continued, "how our retreat has passed through all the historic spots in our national life ... "
The retreat began at Belgrade, where Peter Karageorgevitch compelled the Turks to recognize him as Prince of Serbia in 1806. Then came Kragujevatz, the residence of Prince Miloch Obrenovitch in the early years of Serbian autonomy; then Nish, the Christian city of the great King Stephan Nemania, who liberated Serbia from Byzantine domination in the twelfth century; then Krujevatz, the capital of the martyr Tsar, Lazarus Brankovitch, beheaded in 1389 on the battlefield of Kossovo, under the eyes of the dying Sultan Murad; then Kralievo, where the autocephalous Church of Serbia was founded in the thirteenth century by Saint Sava; then Rashka, the first cradle of the Serbian race and ancient fief of the Nemania; then Uskub, where the illustrious Dushan had himself crowned in 1346 as "Tsar and autocrat of the Serbs, Greeks, Albanians and Bulgarians"; then Ipek, whose patriarchate was the refuge of the national conscience during the long night of Turkish domination. In a word, all the sanctuaries of Serbian patriotism.
"Just think what this retreat must have been; not to mention the thousands of fugitives who followed our army. Just imagine it! ... "
In a voice carried away by his feelings, he told me of old King Peter, a dying man, absolutely refusing to abandon his men, and travelling on an artillery limber drawn by oxen; of the old voïvode Putnik, as ill as his master and borne on a stretcher, and of a long train of monks, carrying the relics from the churches on their shoulders, tramping through the snow day and night, singing hymns and carrying candles.
"Why, your story's an epic, a chanson de geste!. . ."
Monday, January 3, 1916.
The Serbians now being out of the arena, the Anglo-French army of the East has been obliged to abandon Serbia and retire on Salonica, where General Sarrail is engaged in organizing a huge entrenched camp.
This retreat has not been carried through without difficulties, owing to the severe pressure of the Bulgarians, who advanced by forced marches to envelop our troops.
The withdrawal has been completed in perfect order, and we have been able to save all our material.
Tuesday, January 4, 1916.
The commemoration day of the Knights of St. George has given the Emperor one more opportunity of affirming his determination to continue the war; he has issued a proclamation to his army which reads thus:
You may rest assured that, as I said at the beginning of the war, I will not make peace before we have driven the last enemy soldier from our territory. That peace I will make only in complete agreement with our allies, to whom we are bound, not by treaties on paper, but by the ties of true friendship and blood.... May God keep you!
It is the best possible reply to the advances just made by Germany through the agency of the Grand Duke of Hesse and Count Eulenburg.
Thursday, January 6, 1916.
My informer B - -, who has friends in the Okhrana, tells me that the leaders of the various socialist groups held a secret session a fortnight ago in Petrograd, as they did last July. Once again the chairman of the conference was the "labour" deputy, Kerensky. The main purpose of the meeting was to consider a programme of revolutionary action which the "maximalist," Lenin, at the present time a refugee in Switzerland, recently expounded to the Zimmerwald International Socialist Congress.
The discussion opened by Kerensky is said to have culminated in unanimous agreement on the following points:
(1) The uninterrupted defeats of the Russian army, the disorder and inefficiency in public administration, the terrible rumours about of the Empress and the Rasputin scandals have ended by discrediting tsarism in the eyes of the masses.
(2) The nation is utterly sick of the war, of which it understands neither the cause nor the object. The result is that reservists in the depots are increasingly reluctant to go to the front, so that the military value of the combatant troops is declining rapidly. At the same time, economic difficulties are still accumulating and steadily growing worse.
(3) It is therefore probable that in a more or less near future Russia will be obliged to repudiate her alliances and make a separate peace. So much the worse for the Allies!
(4) But, if this peace is negotiated by the Imperial Government, it will obviously be a reactionary and monarchical peace. Yet it is absolutely essential that the peace should be a democratic and socialist peace.
Kerensky is said to have closed the debate with this practical conclusion: "The moment we see the supreme crisis of the war at hand, we must overthrow tsarism, seize power ourselves and set up a socialist dictatorship."
Friday, January 7, 1916.
There has been very stubborn and murderous fighting in the region of Czartorysk, which adjoins the Pinsk marshes. All the Russian attacks have been broken.
Further south, opposite Czernovitz, in eastern Galicia, the Austrians are giving ground a little.
Colonel Narishkin, the Emperor's aide-de-camp, who sees him every day, made the following remark to me: "His Majesty is terribly upset about the disaster to the Serbs; he is always asking me for details of the death struggle of that unfortunate army."
Saturday, January 8, 1916.
Under the influence of Rasputin and his gang, the moral authority of the Russian clergy is waning every day.
One of the recent happenings which has been the greatest shock to the conscience of the faithful is the dispute last autumn between Bishop Varnava and the Holy Synod over the canonization of Archbishop John of Tobolsk.
Two and a half years ago Varnava was merely an ignorant and licentious monk when Rasputin, a friend of his youth and the companion of his frolics in Pokrovskoïe, took it into his head to raise him to a bishopric. This promotion, which was courageously opposed by the Holy Synod, opened the era of the great religious scandals.
Monsignor Varnava had hardly been installed in his high office before he conceived the idea of establishing in his diocese a place of pilgrimage which would serve both the sacred interests of the Church and his personal interests as well. Pilgrims would certainly flock to the place, and contributions flow in also; for there would be no lack of miracles. Rasputin had immediately realized the excellent results to be expected from this pious enterprise, but he thought that to make the miracles more certain, plentiful and marvellous, it was necessary to procure new relics, the relics of a new saint, or, better still, the relics of a saint canonized ad hoc. As a matter of fact, he had often observed that new saints are fond of manifesting their magical powers, while old saints seem to take no pleasure in it. As regards these new relics, they had the very thing on the spot i. e. the remains of the Archbishop John Maximovitch, who died in the odour of sanctity at Tobolsk in 1715. Monsignor Varnava immediately undertook the process of canonization, but the Holy Synod, which had seen through the whole business, ordered the proceedings to be stopped. The bishop ignored this, and on his own authority - and in defiance of all the rules - decreed the canonization of Archbishop John, "servant of God"; then he made a direct request for imperial sanction, an indispensable and final formality in every application for canonization. Once again the Emperor allowed his hand to be forced by the Empress and Rasputin - he personally signed the telegram informing Mgr. Varnava of the supreme confirmation.
Rasputin's clique in the Holy Synod was triumphant, but the majority of the Assembly decided that so impudent a violation of the laws of the Church could not be tolerated. The Procurator, Samarin, an upright and courageous man whom the nobility of Moscow had just induced the Tsar to select in the place of the contemptible Sabler, supported the protest with the whole weight of his authority. Without even referring to the Emperor, he sent for Mgr. Varnava from Tobolsk, and ordered him to annul his decree. The bishop refused in peremptory and insolent language: "I don't care what the Holy Synod may say or think. The confirming telegram I have received from His Majesty is enough for me... "
On Samarin's initiative, the Holy Synod ordered that this prelate, who had defied the ecclesiastical laws, should be dismissed from his episcopal office and banished to a monastery. But here again imperial sanction was required. Samarin bravely undertook to convert the Emperor; to that end he spared nothing in the way of eloquence, vigour, honesty and religious fervour. Nicholas II heard him out impatiently, fidgeting the whole time. He ended by remarking: "Perhaps my telegram to the bishop was not very regular. But what has been done is done, and I must have my wishes respected."
A week later Samarin was replaced by one of Rasputin's cronies, an obscure and servile official named Alexander Voljin, and shortly afterwards the President of the Holy Synod, Monsignor Vladimir, Metropolitan of Petrograd, whose attitude in this dispute had been altogether admirable, was transferred to the See of Kiev, and his post, the highest ecclesiastical dignity in the empire, was given to another of Rasputin's creatures, Mgr. Pitirim, the exarch of Georgia.
Sunday, January 9, 1916.
A curious sign of the favourite preoccupations of the Russian mind is the pleasure taken by Russian authors in describing life in prison, penal settlements and exile. It is a familiar theme with all their novelists; each of them seems to think himself under an obligation to make the sinister milieu of a gaol or Siberian penitentiary the scene of some moving incident.
Dostoïevsky began it when he incorporated his personal recollections in the book which I consider his masterpiece, the Memories of the House of the Dead. Tolstoy, in Resurrection, introduces us with his ruthless realism to the minutest details, material, administrative and moral, of solitary confinement and transportation. Korolenko, Gorky, Tchekov, Veressaïev, Andreiev, Dymov, etc., have also made their contribution to this gallery of horrors, where the background of every picture is the Fortress of SS. Peter and Paul, the citadel of Schlüsselburg, the sepulchural solitudes of Turuchansk and Yakutsk, or the frozen shores of Saghalien. It is probable that the majority of their readers say to themselves: "Perhaps I shall go there myself some day."
Tuesday, January 11, 1916.
Notwithstanding the extreme cold and the very great difficulty of the communications, the enterprise and dash of the Russian armies in Galicia are remarkable.
Prince Stanislas Radziwill, who has come from this zone, has been telling me that last week a German officer, who had just been captured and heard him talking Polish, came up to him and whispered in the same tongue:
"The Germans are done. Stick to it!... Poland for ever!"
Wednesday, January 12, 1916.
The English and French troops have carried out the evacuation of the Gallipoli Peninsula without mishap.
The failure is complete, but disaster has been avoided.
Henceforth the Turkish effort will be directed towards Mesopotamia, Armenia and Macedonia.
Thursday, January 13, 1916.
By its very principles and constitution, tsarism is obliged to be infallible, perfect and above reproach. There is no form of government which calls for more intelligence, honesty, cautious prudence, orderly reasoning, far-sightedness and talent; for outside it, I mean outside the ranks of its administrative oligarchy, there is nothing - no machinery of supervision, no autonomous mechanism, no established parties, no social groups, no legal or traditional organization of the public will.
So when a mistake is made, it is always discovered too late. And there is no one to repair it.
Friday, January 04, 1916.
On the occasion of the orthodox January 1st, the Emperor has addressed his army in these terms:
On the threshold of the year 1916 I send you my greetings, O my valiant warriors. In heart and mind I am with you in battle and the trenches... . Never forget this, that our beloved Russia cannot be sure of her independence or her rights until she has won a final victory over the enemy.... Grasp firm Hold of the idea that there cannot be, and never will be, any peace without victory.. Whatever efforts and sacrifices victory may cost us, we must secure it for our country.
Saturday, January 15, 1916.
Yesterday the Austrians entered Cettinje, which the Montenegrins seem to have abandoned to them without much resistance.
General B - - , when telling me this news, added:
"It's a retreat which smacks of treachery!"
Sunday, January 16, 1916.
The evacuation of Gallipoli by the Anglo-French troops is having a disastrous effect on Russian opinion. Everywhere I hear the same remark: "The question is settled now: we shall never get Constantinople.... Then what's the good of going on with the war?"
Wednesday, January 19, 1916.
As the result of strong pressure by General Alexeiev, the provision of rifles for the Russian army has materially improved.
Present supplies are as follows
(1) Rifles in use at the front: 1,200,000.
(2) Rifles landed at Archangel: 155,700.
(3) Rifles landed at Alexandrovsk: 530,000.
(4) Rifles ready for dispatch from England: 113,000.
Transport through the White Sea is being effected with the help of ice-breakers, though the difficulties are incredible. In the Alexandrovsk region a vast system of sledges, drawn by reindeer, has been organized. The distance from Murmansk to Petrosavodsk is not less than a thousand kilometres!
Between now and the end of April the authorities are anticipating the arrival of a further 850,000 rifles.
Unfortunately, the losses the Russian army has just suffered in Galicia are terrible - 60,000 men! At one point alone, Czartorysk, 11,500 men were blinded by a snowstorm and cut down to a man in a few minutes by the German artillery.
Friday, January 21, 1916.
North-east of Czernovitz, on the Bessarabian front, the Russians have started a new and stubborn offensive which has enabled them to carry an entire sector of the Austrian lines. This result has cost them very dear: 70,000 men killed or wounded and 5,000 prisoners. Unhappily, public opinion now takes more notice of losses than successes.
Saturday, January 22, 1916.
After dinner this evening I called on Princess D - -. I found her alone in her boudoir, where the light from shaded lamps here and there picks out eighteenth-century pictures, statuettes, china, brocades, lacquer, screens, inlaid work, chandeliers and side tables, a roomful of furniture in that clever and charming style which prevailed in the reign of Alexander I as a last blooming of French art. On the wall behind her hung a fine portrait of the Empress Marie Feodorovna, the romantic wife of that crowned madman the Emperor Paul. We had a talk. She is half separated from her husband, and rather more than forty years of age. She has had her share of sentimental experiences; she also has her share of intellect - a natural, thoughtful and lively intellect.
In an indirect form and haphazard fashion, as if she were casually drawing on her memory, she has been telling me of the adventures she has experienced, or other women of her set have experienced. When I left her about midnight, this is more or less what I remember of what she said. But it must be borne in mind that the formality of a written record gives a precise and almost pompous tone to remarks which were the essence of unaffected simplicity, highly expressive, and full of nuances and thoughts suggested rather than spoken:
"The Russian woman's heart is even more exacting and insatiable than her senses. Sometimes we are caught by passion; very rarely by love.
"We are passionate, tender, sensual; we are not romantic; I mean we are content to feel what we feel without talking about it. We have no taste whatever for the psychological verbiage and emotional theories of which your French novels are full. Our love letters are simplicity itself. In any case, we are too idle to write. Besides, we don't know how to talk well about love. Don't you remember the splendid scene in which Anna Karenina confesses her love to Vronsky? Instead of speaking, she fixed upon him a gaze which was charged with love, and remained silent... .
"We are only too ready to worship. It is easy to deceive us. A mere trifle can dazzle and fascinate us... .
"The frequency of divorce among us is an argument in our favour. When we fall in love with a man, we always think it is for ever... .
"Inquisitive? ... Of course, we are inquisitive! We want to see everything, to know and try everything. We are always looking for new faces, new emotions, new desires....
"We are never entirely awake; we never know very well what we are doing, or what time it is ... . We flit through life like shadows in moonlight ... . The poet Tiutchev's remark is perfectly accurate: we have nocturnal souls... .
"Boredom poisons our life. At one and the same moment we reach weariness, satiety, disgust, nausea... .
"We are only religious by fits and starts, when expecting some great joy or threatened with some great sorrow. At such times those of less faith among us rush to church - and then a clairvoyant's!
"We always feel that we are superior to the man we love. Our great quarrel with him is that he does not bend us to his will. So, for want of a better reason, we don't hate him for bullying us....
"We have more courage and strength of mind than our lovers....
"Generally speaking, we accept our fall quite frankly we don't make excuses for it, or look for someone to blame....
"We forget quickly and thoroughly. To most of us what has happened in the past is dead, or rather has never been....
"We are very warm and constant in our friendships... .
"Music frequently contributes to our undoing - I mean Russian and gipsy music. It moves us to the very depths, hypnotizes us, plunges us into a kind of reverie and delicious enervation bordering on mental intoxication. You can believe me or not, but I can tell you that I had a friend who used to have gipsies in the room next to that in which she received her lover... .
"When you take an izvostchik, have you noticed that the driver always starts off at a gallop, without even enquiring where you want to go? It's the same with us; when we start on some adventure, we rush into it without even considering where we are going. In any case, it doesn't matter; our adventures never have any object and never lead anywhere... .
"All our novels conclude with a catastrophe. We always end by jesting at our dreams... .
"No man could give us what we want; we don't know what we want, and very probably it doesn't exist... ."
Monday, January 24, 1916.
The perpetual procrastination of Bratiano is placing Rumania in a dangerous position. The Central Powers are certainly beginning to adopt a threatening tone towards her.
Poklevski, the Russian Minister at Bucharest, has been pressing Bratiano to say what his intentions are. The President of the Council replied:
"I'm hesitating between two views. The tone of the German and Austro-Hungarian agents may be simply an expression of the irritation of their Governments over the question of Rumanian corn. In that case it will be easy for me to make some concessions to Germany and Austria-Hungary. On the other hand, their tone may be the prelude to an ultimatum, requiring the immediate demobilization of our army, for example. In that case I hope I shall continue to control public opinion, and I shall reject the ultimatum."
"In this second eventuality," said Poklevski, "your General Staff ought to confer with ours at once. There's not a moment to lose."
Bratiano agreed, and added:
"The speedy arrival of a Russian army at the mouth of the Danube would be essential to secure us against attack by the Bulgarians in the Dobrudja."
Sazonov, to whom I owe all these details, has asked General Alexeiev to consider this question at once.
Bratiano's private motive is only too plain: he wants to leave Russia the task of holding off the Bulgarians, so that the whole effort of the Rumanian army may be directed against Transylvania, the object of the national ambitions.
Will the Russian General Staff be in a position to concentrate another army in Bessarabia? I have my doubts, judging from a telephone conversation Sazonov has just had, in my presence, with the War Minister. General Polivanov does not think it possible to get an army of 150,000 or 200,000 men from the front to be sent to Moldavia; the armies in the Bukovina and Galicia are engaged in a very difficult operation; it is impossible to think of withdrawing them six hundred kilometres from their present base.
Tuesday, January 25, 1916.
I asked the Rumanian Minister, Diamandy, to lunch with me to-day, and once more laid before him the dangers of the equivocal attitude in which his friend Bratiano is taking refuge.
"How can Monsieur Bratiano fail to see," I said, "that by this attitude he is exposing himself to the worst disasters? In dealing with Russians you simply can't be too practical, far-sighted and straightforward. When I think that at the present moment, faced as you are with a German ultimatum, you haven't even sketched out a military convention with the Russian General Staff, your whole policy seems to me madness."
"You know how much M. Bratiano distrusts the Russians. He will only bind himself to them at the last moment, and he means to select that moment himself - no one else."
" But in a mighty crisis like this, no one is master of the moment! ... Do you suppose that a plan of campaign, a supply base or a transport system can be improvised at the last minute? It seems to me that M. Bratiano's distrust of the Russians is justified in one respect alone, I mean their lack of organizing ability. That's another reason for settling on a practical scheme of co-operation at the first possible moment, and making secret preparations to carry it out. Wherever the Russian troops are to be sent, whether Moldavia or the Dobrudja, the problem of supply alone is a terrible puzzle, the solution of which may perhaps take several months. Don't forget that the Russian and Rumanian railways are of different gauge, and their junction is confined to the Ungeny line, as the Kishinev-Reni line ends in the Danube delta. Until this problem has been solved, and the conditions precedent to Russo-Rumanian co-operation have been fulfilled, Rumania will be left to her own resources, and I'm very much afraid will find herself everywhere exposed to invasion."
Diamandy was very much perturbed, and replied:
"Yes, our situation would be critical; with our 500,000 men we can't protect five hundred kilometres of Danube and seven hundred kilometres of Carpathians at once. That's why it is absolutely essential that the Russians shall cover us in the Dobrudja against a Bulgarian offensive."
I don't know what the Russian High Command will decide; but I have already heard from General Polivanov that in the present state of the railways it appears impossible to keep a Russian army south of the Danube supplied.
During the last few days the Germans have been attacking in force in the Dvinsk region. The Russians are resisting well and have even obtained some advantage.
Wednesday, January 26, 1916.
When reflecting on so much that is archaic and backward, primitive and out-of-date in the social and political institutions of Russia, I often think: "Yet that's exactly where Europe would be if we had had no Renaissance, no Reformation and no French Revolution! ... "