Volume II - CHAPTER VIII - MARCH 23-MAY 3, 1916
Thursday, March 23, 1916.
A dinner at the embassy; I had asked a score or so of Russians (including Shebeko, who was ambassador to Vienna in 1914), a few Poles, notably Count and Countess Joseph Potocki, Prince Stanislas Radziwill, Count Ladislas Wielopolski, and a few English people who are passing through Petrograd.
After dinner I had a talk in a corner with Potocki and Wielopolski. Both of them referred to the reports they are getting from Berlin through Sweden, and express their conclusions in the same terms:
"France and England may perhaps be victorious in the long run. But Russia has now lost the game; in any case she will never get Constantinople, and if she brings about a reconciliation with Germany it will be at the cost of Poland: Sturmer will be the instrument of that reconciliation."
Then one of my Russian guests, Princess V - - , who is very high-minded, quick-witted and clever, beckoned to me to go and sit by her.
"For the first time you see me thoroughly downhearted," she sighed. "I've kept up my spirits till quite recently. But since this dreadful Sturmer has been in office I've lost all hope."
I comforted her, but only half-heartedly, so that she might tell me everything on her mind. At the same time I emphasized that Sazonov's patriotism was a guarantee of the vigorous prosecution of the war.
"Yes, but how much longer will he be in power? What's going on behind his back? Is there anything brewing that he knows nothing of? No doubt you know that the Empress hates him, because he has always refused to bow the knee to the abject scoundrel who is bringing Russia to shame. I won't tell you who the ruffian is; I couldn't pronounce his name without being sick."
"I can understand that you are sad and anxious. To a certain extent I share your anxiety. But to throw away the axe because the handle comes off - no, no, no! The harder the times, the greater is one's duty to stand firm. And it's your duty as much as anyone's, as you've a reputation for courage and your courage sustains many others."
She was silent for a moment, as if listening to a voice within. Then she resumed with a melancholy and resigned gravity:
"What I'm going to say may sound pedantic and ridiculous. What if it does! I strongly believe in Fate; I believe in it as the poets of antiquity did, Sophocles and Æschylus, who were convinced that even the gods of Olympus obeyed the decrees of destiny."
"Me quoque Fata regunt. You see, I'm the pedant, not you, as I'm quoting Latin."
"What does your quotation mean?"
"Those words were placed by the poet Ovid in the mouth of Jupiter, and mean: 'I too am the slave of destiny.'"
"So things haven't changed since the reign of Jupiter. Destiny has always directed the world's course, and Providence itself obeys Fate. This isn't very orthodox and I wouldn't repeat it to the Holy Synod. But I'm obsessed by the idea that Fate is driving Russia to a catastrophe. It's like a horrible nightmare."
"What do you mean by Fate?"
"I could never explain. I'm not a philosopher myself. I go to sleep every time I open a book on philosophy. But I know well enough what Fate is. Help me to describe it."
"Why, it's the force of things, the law of necessity, the natural order of the universe. Aren't these definitions enough for you?"
"No, not at all. If Fate was no more than that I shouldn't be afraid of it. For though Russia may be a very great empire, I can't think that her victory or defeat is a matter of great concern to the natural order of the universe."
And then, picking her words to some extent, but quite spontaneously and without the least affectation, she described Fate to me as a mysterious power, blind but irresistible, which intervenes at random in the world's affairs, prosecutes its designs inflexibly, despite all human efforts, wisdom and calculations, and takes a malicious delight in making us the instruments of its own caprices.
"Take the Emperor, for example," she continued. "Isn't he patently predestined to ruin Russia? Aren't you struck by his ill-luck? Could any reign have been richer in miscalculations, failures and calamities? Everything he has undertaken, his best ideas and noblest inspirations, have gone wrong or actually reacted against him. As a matter of logic, what must his end be? As to the Empress, do you know any figure more baleful and accursed even in classical tragedy? And that other, the loathsome ruffian whose name I won't utter! Isn't the brand of Fate on him clearly enough? How can you explain the fact that at such a crisis in history these three incongruous and dull-witted beings hold the destinies of the world's largest empire in their hands? Don't you recognize the action of Fate in that? Come, tell me honestly!"
"You're very eloquent; but I'm not convinced at all. Fate is only the excuse a weak character gives for its surrender. As I have started being a pedant, I shall continue to be so; I'm going to quote you more Latin. In Lucretius there's an excellent definition of will: 'Fatis avulsa potestas' which can be translated as 'a power wrenched from Fate.' Even the most pessimistic of poets has admitted that it is possible to fight against destiny."
After a silent pause Princess V - - resumed with a melancholy smile:
"You're lucky to be able to think that. Anyone can see you're not a Russian! Anyway, I'll promise to think over what you say. But please forget what I've been telling you, mon cher Ambassadeur. For Heaven's sake don't repeat a word; I'm ashamed of letting myself go to a foreigner."
"Yes, and a friend too. But a foreigner all the same! I know I can count on your discretion. You'll keep my confidences to yourself, won't you? Now let's go and talk to our other guests."
Sunday, March 26, 1916.
The frightful struggle at Verdun is still continuing.
Notwithstanding the extreme cold and heavy snowfalls the Russians are trying to help use by attacks on the Dvina front. Yesterday they gained substantial successes in the Jacobstadt sector and west of Lake Narotch.
Monday, March 27, 1916.
The psychology of Russian criminals is of fascinating interest; it presents the moralist, sociologist, lawyer and doctor with an inexhaustible source of varied, fantastic, contradictory, paradoxical, disconcerting and improbable observations. Among no other nation do the dramas of conscience, the mysteries of free will and atavism, the problems of personal responsibility and penal sanctions wear so complex and perplexing an aspect. Hence the fact that Russian dramatists and novelists have made the "criminal" their favourite theme.
Through the translator who reviews the Press for me every morning I keep in touch with the chronicles of the courts, and I can confirm that the fictions of literature do not in any way exaggerate the truth. Often enough it is the truth which leaves the fiction writers behind.
One of the facts I most frequently observe is the swift reawakening of conscience the moment that homicidal fury or brute lust is satiated. Once more I must point out - as I have done several times before in this diary - that the conscience of a Russian is inspired solely by the Scriptures. Even in the most sin-stained soul the Christian idea of sin, repentance and expiation is never destroyed. After the cerebral paroxysm and nervous storm which have produced the criminal act you can almost always see the culprit collapse. With hanging head, dull eyes and knitted brow he sits lost in feverish grief and intense agony of mind. Before long, one feeling obsesses him with the stubborn force of an idée fixe, a feeling of shame, remorse, an irresistible desire to confess and expiate his crime. He flings himself down before the ikons, beats his breast and calls imploringly on Christ. His whole moral attitude seems determined by the thought from Pascal: "God forgives, the moment he sees penitence in the heart."
An incident which Dostoïevsky puts into his novel, The Youth, illustrates my point very strikingly. He is speaking of a soldier who has done his years of service and returned to his village. The way of life he has led with his regiment soon makes his monotonous existence among moujiks quite intolerable, added to which they dislike him. Then he starts drinking and drops into evil ways. One day he robs some travellers. He falls under suspicion immediately; he is arrested. But proof positive is lacking. At the trial his attorney, by great skill, is about to secure his acquittal. Suddenly, the prisoner gets up and cuts his defender short: "No, no! Wait a minute. Let me speak. I'm going to tell everything." And he tells everything - absolutely everything. Then he bursts into tears, violently beats his breast and proclaims his repentant grief. The jury are deeply moved and retire to confer. After a few minutes they bring in a verdict of "Not Guilty." The crowd in court cheers. The judges order his release. But the ex-soldier does not move. He is utterly taken aback. When he finds himself in the street, a free man, he walks about in a dismal stupor, not knowing where he is going. Next morning, after a sleepless night, he is still more depressed. He refuses to eat or drink and will not say a word to anyone. On the fifth day he hangs himself. A character in the story, the peasant Macaire Ivanovitch, in whose presence this incident is related, sums it up thus: "That's what comes of living with your sins on your soul!"
Wednesday, March 29, 1916.
The ex-President of the Council, Kokovtsov, whose signal patriotism and sound sense I greatly admire, has been to see me at the embassy. He was very pessimistic as usual; in fact he gave me the idea that he was forcibly controlling himself to prevent me seeing the real depths of his despair.
In his general diagnosis of the internal conditions of Russia I observe the importance he attaches to the demoralisation of the Russian clergy. In a grief-stricken tone, which occasionally made his grave voice tremble, he ended with these words:
"The religious forces of this country will not be able to withstand the abominable strain upon them much longer. The Episcopate and high ecclesiastical offices are now completely under the heel of the Rasputin clique. It's like an unclean disease, a gangrene which will soon have devoured all the higher ranks of the Church. I could shed tears of shame when I think of the ignoble traffic that goes on in the offices of the Holy Synod on certain days. But to the religious future of Russia - and I'm speaking of a near future - there is another peril which seems to me not less formidable: it is the spread of revolutionary ideas among the lower clergy, particularly young priests. You must know how wretched is the condition of our priests, materially and morally. The sviatchenik of our rural parishes almost always lives in blank misery which too often makes him lose all dignity, shame, and respect for his cloth and office. The peasants despise him for his idle, drunken ways, and they are always quarrelling with him over his fees for services and sacraments; sometimes they don't stop at insulting and even beating him. You've no idea what an accumulation of grief and bitterness there is in the hearts of some of our priests! Our socialists have very skilfully exploited the pitiable condition of the lower clergy. For the last twelve years they have been carrying on a very active campaign among the country priests, especially the younger ones. Thus they are simultaneously recruiting soldiers for the army of anarchy, and apostles and teachers who naturally have influence on our ignorant and mystical masses. You may remember the evil rôle of the priest Gapon in the riots of 1905: he had a kind of magnetic influence on all around him. A well-informed person told me the other day that revolutionary propaganda is now making its way even into the ecclesiastical colleges. You know that the young men in the seminaries are all sons of priests; most of them are without means; the memories which many of them bring from their villages make them "humbled and abased" from the outset, to use Dostoïevsky's phrase. Thus their minds are only too ready to receive the seed of the socialist gospel. And to complete their perversion, agitators fan them into fury against the higher clergy by telling them of the Rasputin scandals !
Thursday, March 30, 1916.
The Duma has just concluded, in secret session, its investigation of the finances of the Foreign Office. Sazonov was several times called upon to address the assembly. His patriotism, courageous, straightforward candour and high standard of duty have earned him a rich reward of respect and affection. So all is well in that quarter.
But in the sphere of domestic politics the relations between the government and the assembly are becoming worse and more strained every day. In two months of office Sturmer has succeeded in making the public want Goremykin back. The whole bureaucracy is engaged in a competition in reactionary zeal. If it was desired to provoke a violent crisis, no better course could be adopted. I am expecting a speedy resumption of the old game of police provocation, the exploits of the "Black Bands" and massacres of Jews.
A recent incident has exasperated the groups of the Extreme Left in the Duma: the Petrograd Court has just passed sentence of confinement in Siberia for life on five Social Democrat deputies, on charges of revolutionary propaganda.
They were arrested so long ago as November, 1914, at the time when Lenin, a refugee in Switzerland, was starting his defeatist campaign with the famous profession of faith: "Russian socialists must desire the victory of Germany, because the defeat of Russia will involve the downfall of tsarism... ." The five deputies - Petrovsky, Chagov, Badaïev, Muranov and Samoïlov were originally accused of treason, but subsequently all the charges were dropped except that of having tried to organize a revolutionary movement in the army.
The famous Petrograd lawyer, Soklov, and the Labour deputy Kerensky, put up a skilful defence, but the sentence was none the less a heavy one.
In the course of his speech, Kerensky asserted that the accused have never thought of provoking a revolution during the war; they have never desired the defeat of our army; they have never held out a hand to the enemy over the heads of those who are dying in defence of the country. What they most feared, on the contrary, was that the Russian reactionaries might make common cause with the German reactionaries... ."This allusion to a secret understanding between Russian autocracy and Prussian absolutism is only too well founded. But in my view it is equally well established that Russian socialism is also secretly paving the way for a betrayal by appealing to the worst instincts of the workmen and soldiers.
Saturday, April 1, 1916.
I have been to see Sturmer about certain administrative matters which come under his department.
With his wheedling smirk and affectation of candour he smothered me with honeyed promises:
"Your Excellency, I'll give orders to my departments to do everything possible to meet your wishes. And what they call impossible I'll do myself!"
I took a note of these excellent professions and then, addressing him not as Minister of the Interior but as President of the Council, I mentioned the difficulties which the bureaucracy is always putting in the way of private industries working for the war. I gave several recent examples which reveal not only indifference and confusion in the public services but downright ill-will:
"I appeal to your authority," I said, "to put an end to these scandalous abuses."
"Surely scandalous is somewhat exaggerated, Monsieur l'Ambassadeur! I'll admit, of course, that there have been a few cases of negligence; I'm grateful to you for bringing them to my notice."
"No, Monsieur le Président, the incidents I speak of - I'll guarantee their truth - are not cases of mere negligence; they show there's a system of obstruction and a real feeling of enmity."
With a grieved air, and his hand on his heart, he vouched for the fervent patriotism, loyal zeal and unassailable probity of the Civil Service. But I persisted with my charges, and proved by the production of figures that Russia could easily treble or quadruple her effort, while France is exhausting all her vitality. He protested:
"But we've lost a million men on the battlefield!"
"That means that the losses of France are four times greater than those of Russia."
"It's a very simple calculation. Russia has 180,000,000 inhabitants, France 40,000,000. For the losses to be relatively equal yours should be four and a half times higher than ours. But, if I am not mistaken, the present losses of the French army exceed 800,000 men. And I'm only speaking of numerical equality!"
He raised his eyes in amazement.
"I've never been any good at sums. All I can tell you is that our poor moujiks are giving their lives without stint."
"I know it. Your moujiks are splendid; it's your tchinovniks I complain about."
With a lordly frown, and drawing himself up majestically, he continued:
"Monsieur l'Ambassadeur, I'm going to investigate everything you've been good enough to bring to my notice. If there have been mistakes, their recurrence will be ruthlessly prevented. You may rely on vigorous action by me."
I gave him a grateful nod. In the same tone he continued:
"I'm very lenient by temperament, but I stop at no severity when it's a question of serving the Emperor and Russia. So you may trust me entirely, Your Excellency. All will be well; yes, all will be well, with God's help."
With that fallacious assurance I left him, but I was sorry he had not dealt with my allusion to the numerical proportion of the French losses to the Russian. I should like to have made him realize that in calculating the losses suffered by the two allies the factor of numbers is neither the sole nor even the principal element. From the point of view of culture, and as a product of civilization, the Frenchman and the Russian are not in the same class. The empire of the Tsars is one of the most backward countries in the world: of 180,000,000 inhabitants, 150,000,000 cannot read or write. With this ignorant and primitive mass compare our army: all the soldiers educated men; the majority highly intelligent and of fine feeling; at its head a countless legion of young men who have already given proof of leadership, learning, taste and talent - the choicest flower of human kind. From that point of view our losses enormously exceed those of the Russians.
In speaking as I do, I am not ignoring that in the realm of the ideal the lowliest life acquires by sacrifice a value beyond price, and when a poor moujik is killed it would be hideous and horrible to frame his epitaph in words such as these: "You could not read or write, and your coarse hands were fit for nothing but pushing the plough; so you did not give much when you gave your life!" Nothing is further from my mind than to apply to this army of humble heroes the contemptuous remark passed by Tacitus on the Christian martyrs: "Si interissent vile damnum." But from the political point of view, and that of effective contribution to the Alliance, it is absolutely certain that the French share is by far the greater.
Sunday, April 2, 1916.
General Polivanov, the War Minister, has been relieved of his functions and replaced by General Shuvaïev, a man of mean intelligence.
General Polivanov's dismissal is a serious loss to the Alliance. So far as was possible, he had restored system and order in the War Department, and made good - so far as could be made good - the mistakes, omissions, waste and betrayals of his predecessor, General Sukhomlinov. He was not only an excellent administrator, as methodical and ingenious as upright and vigilant, but possessed the strategic sense in a very high degree: General Alexeiev does not like taking advice from anyone, but he attached great importance to his.
Though his loyalty is unimpeachable, he is a man of liberal opinions, and had many friends in the Duma and the ranks of the Octobrists and Cadets, who founded great hopes upon him. He seemed to be a last line of defence of the existing regime, capable of protecting it both against the extravagances of absolutism and the excesses of revolution.
The confidence he inspired in the Duma could only do him harm and discredit him with the Empress. In particular, his relations with the president of the Octobrists, Gutchkov, "the personal enemy of Their Majesties," have often been exploited to his detriment. Once again the Emperor has been weak enough to sacrifice one of his best servants.
At the same time I am assured that General Polivanov's dismissal does not foreshadow any change in the domestic policy of the empire, and that the Emperor has recently instructed Sturmer to avoid any conflict with the Duma.
Thursday, April 6, 1916.
Maxim Kovalevsky has just died after a short illness.
Born in 1851, a professor of the University of Moscow and one of its delegates to the Council of Empire, he was one of the most striking figures in the Cadet party.
A passionate lover of justice, he practised one of the virtues which is rarest in Russia - and elsewhere - tolerance. His heart and conscience were outraged by anti-Semitism. When he was discussing one day the abominable regime to which tsarism has subjected the Jews, he quoted the phrase of Stuart Mill: "In a civilized nation there must be no pariahs."
During our last conversation he let me see that he had few illusions as to the seriousness of the evils from which Russia is suffering, and the enormous difficulty of reforming the established order without bringing the whole edifice down. But if there is one thing which alarms him above everything else it is the ignorance of the masses. Here again he shared Stuart Mill's view: "The condition precedent to universal suffrage is universal education."
Considered in relation to the number of its population Russia is, next to China, the country which has fewest educated and eminent citizens, and where the social directing body is smallest in number. and lowest in quality. Thus the disappearance of a Maxim Kovalevsky is a material loss from the national point of view.
Monday, April 10, 1916.
I have dined at the Donon Restaurant with Count and Countess Joseph Potocki, Prince Constantine Radziwill and his niece,, Princess Stanislas Radziwill, Count Broel-Plater, Count Ladislas Wielopolski, etc.
The atmosphere of the gathering was entirely Polish, so that everyone talked quite freely in front of me. From the course of the conversation, the facts brought forward and the euphemisms to which the speakers resorted, I have concluded that this war, in which the belligerents of Central and Western Europe are developing to the maximum their faculties for military organization and political cohesion, is far too much for the material and moral resources of Russia.
After dinner Wielopolski took me on one side and poured out his heart:
"I once took a course at Berlin University and I'll admit it has made a deep impression on me, and even left me with very pleasant memories; not that it prevents me from cordially detesting Prussia and being a loyal subject of the Emperor Nicholas. But I can't entirely get rid of my German training when I indulge in philosophiren on things Russian... ."
And with a perfect profusion of historical arguments he endeavoured to convince me that, appearances notwithstanding, Russia is the weakest of the warring states, the power which will be the first to go under, because its backward civilization strictly limits its productive faculties, and its national conscience is even yet too undeveloped to resist the disintegrating action of a long war.
Tuesday, April 11, 1916.
The day before yesterday the Battle of Verdun seems to have attained a paroxysm of horror and fury. Along the whole line the fierce waves of the German offensive have been victoriously repulsed.
Never before in her history has the soul of France risen to such heights. Sazonov, whose moral conscience is quite unusually sensitive, was deeply moved as he used these words to me this morning.
Wednesday, April 12, 1916.
Count Constantine de Broel-Plater is leaving for London, Paris and Lausanne, where he is to confer with his Polish compatriots.
I asked him to lunch to-day with Count Ladislas Wielopolski and Count Joseph Potocki - no other guests, so that we could talk freely.
A very frank conversation I had with Sazonov yesterday enabled me to guarantee that the Emperor was still firm in his liberal intentions towards Poland.
"I'm not in the least anxious about the intentions of the Emperor and Sazonov. But Sazonov may disappear from the political stage at any moment. And then, who can guarantee us against faint-heartedness on the part of the Emperor?"
Plater argued that the Allies should take up the Polish question so as to make it international.
I protested vigorously against this notion. The claim to internationalize the Polish question would provoke an outburst of indignation in nationalist circles in the empire, and paralyse all the sympathies we have won in other quarters. Sazonov himself would violently object. And the whole Sturmer gang would have a fine game denouncing the democratic Western powers for taking advantage of the Alliance to interfere in the domestic affairs of Russia. I added:
"You know what the French Government feels about your cause, and I can promise you its interest is not academic. But its action will be all the more efficacious if it is discreet and deprived of any official character. So far as I personally am concerned, I never lose an opportunity of inducing the Emperor's ministers to talk to me about Poland and tell me their views, doubts and difficulties about the grave and complex problems which the proclamation of Polish autonomy raises. Although given solely as private opinions, their repeated declarations (for not one of them, not even Sturmer himself, has ventured to protest against the Emperor's intentions) have at length constituted a kind of moral obligation which unquestionably would enable the French Government to speak with exceptional authority when the hour of final decision arrives."
Plater has promised me to make this point clear to his compatriots; but he does not hide from me that he will have difficulty in convincing them.
Friday, April 14, 1916.
In spite of the dangers, length and difficulty of the journey, there is hardly a week which does not witness the arrival of French visitors, officers, engineers, business men, journalists, etc.
However short their stay and however deficient their powers of observation, they have all told me of their painful surprise at the indifference, if not positive coldness, towards France which they have observed in liberal circles.
It is unfortunately true. The Retch, for example, the official organ of the Cadets, is one of the Russian papers which seem to take pleasure in making no mention of our military operations; it is extremely miserly with its compliments to our army, and one of the quickest to point out the slowness or mistakes of our strategy. With very few exceptions - among whom I should mention Miliukov, Shingarev and Maklakov - the great majority of the party has not yet abandoned its ancient and tenacious dislike of the Alliance.
The grievance is ten years old. The war in Manchuria had just ended in disaster and all over Russia there was. an endless succession of riots, strikes, plots, murders of officials, mutinies in the navy and the army, agrarian risings, lootings and pogroms. To crown everything, the imperial treasury was empty. A loan of 2,250,000,000 francs was negotiated on the Paris market. To our banks and the press the offer was very enticing. But the Government of the Republic hesitated to authorize the operation as the parties of the Extreme Left demanded that the draft bill for the loan should be submitted to the Duma, which would thus have been in a position to impose conditions on tsarism. Count Witte naturally opposed this suggestion with all his might.
The position of Léon Bourgeois's Radical cabinet was delicate. Were we to strengthen monarchical absolutism in Russia with the help of French money? In the open conflict between the Russian people and autocracy were we to side with the oppressor against the oppressed?
A consideration, of which French opinion knew nothing, ultimately decided our ministers to acquiesce in the demands of the Imperial Government. Relations between France and Germany were bad; the Algeçiras convention was only a diplomatic armistice. We also knew of the astute intrigues with the Tsar on which the Emperor William was personally engaged, with a view to forcing him into a Russo-German alliance which France would have been called upon to join. Was this the moment to break with tsarism?
In authorizing the issue of the Russian loan on the Paris market in April, 1906, the Government of the Republic remained faithful to the cardinal principle of our foreign policy - to seek the main bulwark of our national independence in the silent development of the armed power of Russia.
There was an angry explosion among the Democrats in the Duma. Their resentment still continues.
Saturday, April 15, 1916.
I have called on Madame Taneïev, wife of the Secretary of State who is Director of the Imperial Chancellery and the mother of Madame Vyrubova.
It is a long time since I saw her last, though I always enjoy a talk with her in her ancient rooms in the Michael Palace; her family traditions have made her a rich storehouse of memories.
Her father, the aide-de-camp, General Ilarion Tolstoï, was a close personal friend of Alexander II; her maternal grandfather, Prince Alexander Golitzin, accompanied the Grand Duke Constantine when he was Viceroy of Poland. And for over a century the directorate, of the Imperial Chancellery has been held by successive generations of Taneïevs.
She recently lent me a diary kept by her grandmother, Princess Golitzin, during the Polish insurrection of 1830-31. It illustrated the illusions then harboured by Russia on the subject of Poland, and how generous the Russians had been in forgiving the Poles for the crime of the three partitions.
But it is not Poland which we have been discussing to-day. I interrogated her in very veiled language about her daughter, Madame Vyrubova, the absorbing part she plays at the palace and the constant attention and attendance the Empress's confidence imposes upon her.
"Of course my poor Annie gets very tired sometimes," she said. "Never a moment's rest! Since the Emperor has been with the armies the Empress is overwhelmed with work; she must know all that is going on. Our good M. Sturmer consults her about everything. She doesn't mind that. Far from it! But, of course, it means that my daughter receives hosts of letters and has heaps to do!"
Wednesday, April 19, 1916.
The Russians took Trebizond yesterday. Perhaps this success will revive the dream of Constantinople, which no one talks about now.
For four and a half centuries the scarlet standard of Islam has floated over "Tirabzon": Christian civilization returns with the Russian army. After the collapse of the Greek army in 1204 the Comneni transferred the remnants of their authority and fortune to the Pontic shore. Their new empire rapidly attained a high degree of power, splendour and prosperity. To the artless imagination of the oriental troubadours, the Emperors of Trebizond actually appeared as fabled potentates, on whose lofty heads sat a golden halo of glory and fantastic riches. It was the land of the "Far-away Princess." As a matter of cold fact, the Empire of Trebizond was for three centuries the advanced rampart of Byzantine Christianity and European civilization against the Turkish invaders.
Thursday, April 20, 1916.
In accordance with custom, the ambassadors and ministers of Catholic powers were invited to attend Holy Thursday mass in full uniform this morning at the Priory of Malta.
In this narrow church, with its medley of octagonal crosses, I stood facing the throne of the Grand Master and the Latin inscriptions, Once more, as a year ago, my mind turned to strange memories of that crowned madman the Emperor Paul.
Once again, too, the pathetic liturgy carried my thoughts away to the mourning of France and the countless and ever-growing number of our dead. Will history ever record such a death-roll again? And, above all, I thought of our heroes of Verdun, whose simple faith and brave, light hearts have raised the age-old virtues of the French spirit to the highest pinnacle of the sublime and the miraculous.
Friday, April 21, 1916.
This year the date of Easter is again the same in the Russian and Gregorian calendars.
Towards the end of the day, Princess D - -, who holds very independent views and likes "going among the people," took me to some of the churches in the popular quarters.
After a short call at the gaudy and sumptuous Lavra of Saint Alexander Nevsky, we visited the little Church of the Raising of the Cross, hard by the Obvodny Canal, then the Ismaïlov Cathedral, at the end of the Fontanka, and then the churches of St. Catherine and the Resurrection, in a quarter of factories and docks not far from the Neva.
In all of them we found a dazzling light and splendid choirs, distinguished for the beauty of the voices, technical excellence and depth of religious feeling.
Everywhere the faces of the worshippers reflected a grave and dreamy fervour, wistful and concentrated.
We lingered in the Church of the Resurrection, where the crowd was particularly silent and composed.
Suddenly Princess D - - nudged my elbow:
"Look!" she said; "isn't that a moving sight?
With a glance she pointed out a moujik who was absorbed in prayer within a few feet of us. He was a man of about fifty, dressed in a patched lambskin, tall, With a consumptive look, a flat, broad nose, wrinkled brows, high forehead, hollow cheeks, with a sprinkling of greyish beard, his head drooping towards the right shoulder and
his hands in his lap nervously clasping his cap. Several times he struck his forehead and shoulders with his clenched fist, while his thick, bluish lips stammered out: "Gospodi pomilou!" - " Lord, have mercy on me!"
After each exclamation he uttered a deep sigh - a dull, grief-laden groan. Then he became motionless once more. But his face was all the more expressive. A phosphorescent, ecstatic light bathed his watery eyes, which looked as if he were really seeing some invisible object.
Princess D - - clasped my arm: "Look at him! Look at him! He's seeing Christ!"
While I was taking my companion home, we discussed the religious instincts of Russians. I quoted Pascal's phrase: "Religious belief is Christ felt within." I asked her whether she did not think we might say: "To the Russian, faith is Jesus Christ felt within "?
"That's it!" she cried. "That's it exactly."
Saturday, April 22, 1916.
This morning Sazonov remarked in an irritated tone
"Bratiano's at his old game again!"
Yesterday evening he had a visit from Colonel Tatarinov, military attaché at Bucharest, who has come from Rumania to make his report to the Emperor. He says that a compact between the Russian and Rumanian General Staffs will be easy to arrange, with a view to operations in the Dobrudja. As a result of his conferences with General Iliesco he even considered himself entitled to think that agreement had been reached in principle on that basis. But when he went to say good-bye to Bratiano, the latter suddenly put forward a demand that the main and immediate objective of the Russian army should be the occupation of Rustchuk, so that Bucharest should be safe against attack by the Bulgarians. General Alexeïv considers that such a demand, which wholly ignores the difficulties of a two hundred-and-fifty kilometres' march along the right bank of the Danube, is another proof of Bratiano's determination to evade the conclusion of a military convention.
"And Paris will go on saying that it is Russia which stands in the way of Rumanian intervention!" added Sazonov.
Sunday, April 23, 1916.
The ice is breaking up in the Neva, and the river is fiercely sweeping down tremendous blocks, which come from Ladoga; it is the end of the "ice age."
Returning from a call at the end of the English Quay, I saw the chamberlain, Nicholas Besak, staggering through the thawing mud in a fierce and cutting north wind. I offered him a lift in my car. He accepted, and when ensconced next to me began to amuse me with the paradox-loving imagination he occasionally reveals, with the spontaneity and genius of a Rivarol.
When we reached the Holy Synod Square, crowned by the monument of Peter I, Falconet's masterpiece, I once more expressed my admiration of the majestic effigy of the tsar legislator, who seems to be directing the very course of the Neva from the vantage point of a prancing horse. Besak raised his hat.
"I greet the greatest revolutionary of modern times!" he said.
"Peter I a revolutionary? I always thought he was a fierce, impetuous and rabid reformer, without scruples or mercy, but possessed to a very high degree of creative genius and the instinct for order and authority."
"No. All Peter Alexeievitch liked was destroying things. That is why he was so essentially Russian. In his savage despotism he undermined and overturned the whole fabric. For nearly thirty years he was in revolt against his people; he attacked all our national traditions and customs; he turned everything upside down, even our holy orthodox Church. You call hint a reformer. But a true reformer allows for the past, recognizes the limits of the possible and impossible, is cautious with his changes and paves the way for the future. He was quite different. He destroyed for the sheer delight of destroying, and took a cynical pleasure in breaking down the resistance of others, outraging their conscience, and killing their most natural and legitimate feelings... When our present-day anarchists dream of blowing up the social edifice on the pretext of reconstructing it en bloc, they are unconsciously drawing their inspiration from Peter the Great. Like him, they have a fanatical hatred of the past; like him, they imagine they can change the whole soul of a nation by ukases and penalties. Once more I say that Peter Alexeievitch is the true ancestor and precursor of our revolutionaries."
"What if he is! I wish he'd come to life again. For twenty-one years he kept up the fight with the Swedes and ended by dictating terms of peace to them. He'd be quite equal to continuing the war against the Boches for another year or two. Heaven knows he'd have his hands full, Titan of will-power though he was!"
Monday, April 24, 1916.
Briand has cabled me that Viviani, the Minister of justice, and Albert Thomas, Under-Secretary of State for Artillery and Munitions, are being sent to Petrograd, charged with the duty of establishing an even closer contact between the French and Russian Governments.
I immediately informed Sazonov, who has promised me that these two envoys shall have the best of receptions. But under the official promise., which is couched in terms of the requisite courtesy and spontaneity, I think I can detect a certain vague apprehension: he did, in fact, interrogate me at length about Albert Thomas, whose fervent and infectious socialism is anything but to his taste. I told him all about Albert Thomas's work in the war, his patriotism, exceptional intelligence, inexhaustible industry, loyal efforts to maintain friendly relations between employers and workmen - in a word, all the energy and gifts he has devoted to the service of the Union Sacrée..
Sazonov, who is not without heart, was touched by my panegyric:
"I'll tell the Emperor all you say. But you'd better repeat it yourself to Messrs. Sturmer and Co."
Tuesday, April 25, 1916.
This afternoon I took tea with Princess L - -, a very charming old lady, whose face - with its features still pure - and lively talk are a delightful expression of the open mind, warm heart and tolerant outlook of those who have lived long and loved greatly. I found her alone with her bosom friend, Countess F - -, whose husband holds one of the highest posts at Court.
My arrival rudely interrupted their conversation, which must have been on some very unpleasant subject as both of them had a horrified look. Countess F - - left almost at once.
As I talked with the Princess, I thought I could detect a melancholy, obsessing thought hovering in the depths of her eyes, a thought which captured my curiosity.
I then remembered that Count F - - comes into close personal contact with the sovereigns every day and has no secrets from his wife, so I insidiously asked my hostess:
"How is the Emperor? I've had no news of him for a long time."
"He's still at the Stavka and I believe he's never been better."
"So he didn't come back to Tsarskoe Selo for the Easter services?"
"No. It's the very first time he has missed celebrating the Easter rites with the Empress and his children. But he couldn't leave Mohilev: it's said that our troops are going to take the offensive soon."
"What's happening to the Empress To this simple question the Princess replied with a look and gesture of despair. I begged her to explain. At length she said:
"Would you believe it! Last Thursday, when the Empress was receiving holy communion at the Feodorovsky Sobor, she desired and ordered that Rasputin should take the sacrament at the same time. The wretch received the holy relics, Christ's body and blood, at her side! ... My old friend, Countess F - -, was telling me about it just now. Isn't it dreadful? I still feel terribly upset.
"Yes, it's a great pity. But, at heart, the Empress is consistent. She believes in Rasputin; she regards him as a just man, a saint, persecuted by the calumnies of the Pharisees, like the victim of Calvary; she has made him her spiritual guide and refuge, her mediator with Christ, her witness and intercessor before God. So isn't it natural that she should want him at her side when she performs the most important act of her religious life? I confess I am extremely sorry for the poor, misguided woman."
"By all means be sorry for her, Ambassador, and for us too! The question is, what will all this bring us to, some day?
Wednesday, April 26, 1916.
Nitchevo! ... Who can doubt that that is the word most frequently to be heard on Russian lips? At all times and in all places you can hear people saying Nitchevo! ("That's nothing! That doesn't matter a bit!") with a gesture of indifference or renunciation.
The word is so common and popular that one is compelled to recognize it as the expression of a national characteristic.
In all ages there have been epicureans and sceptics to proclaim the vanity of human effort and take a gleeful delight in the thought of the universal illusion. Whether power or desire, wealth or pleasure were concerned, Lucretius never failed to remark: Nequicquam! ("It's so futile!")
Very different is the meaning of the Russian nitchevo. This summary method of depreciating the object of a wish, or asserting by anticipation the inanity of an endeavour, is usually nothing but the excuse the speaker makes for giving up trying.
I will give a few further details, culled from a direct and secret source, of Rasputin's participation in the Empress's communion service.
Mass was celebrated by Father Vassiliev in the mysterious, glittering crypt of the Feodorovsky Sobor, the little archaic church whose slender cupola stands out so strangely against the trees of the imperial park - a survival or evocation of ancient Muscovy. The Tsarina was present with the three older girls; Grigory stood behind her, accompanied by Madame Vyrubova and Madame Turovitch. When Alexandra Feodorovna advanced to the ikonostasis to receive the bread and precious blood she glanced at the staretz, who followed her and took the sacrament immediately after her. Then, at the altar, they exchanged the kiss of peace, Rasputin kissing the Empress on the forehead and she returning his kiss on his hand.
During the days preceding this ceremony, the staretz spent long hours in prayer at Our Lady of Kazan, where he confessed to Father Nicholas on Wednesday evening. His fervent friends, Mlle. G - - and Madame T - -, who hardly left his side, have been much struck by his melancholy, brooding air. Several times he spoke to them of his approaching death. In particular he said to Madame T - -: "Do you realize that before long I shall die in terrible agonies? But what can I do? God has given me the sublime mission of being a sacrifice for the salvation of our dear sovereigns and Holy Russia. Notwithstanding my sins, which are lamentable, I am a Christ in miniature, malenkii Kristos." On another occasion he uttered the following prophecy, when passing the Fortress of SS. Peter and Paul with two women friends: "I can see many persons in agony there; I don't mean persons in the sense of individuals, but in multitudes; I can see heaps, masses of corpses, tutchy trupov, several Grand Dukes and hundreds of counts,, neskolko velikikh kniaseï i sotni grafiev... . The Neva will be all red with blood."
In the evening of Friday Rasputin went off to his village, Pokrovskoïe, near Tobolsk, and Madame T - - and Mlle. G - - have gone to join him there.
Thursday, April 27, 1916.
I have called on Madame D - -, who is on the point of leaving for her estates in the Tchernoziom, south of Voronej.
A serious-minded and energetic lady, she takes great interest in the life of the peasants and makes herself an intelligent guardian of their welfare, education and morality. I have been asking her about their religious feelings. She describes them as very artless and unaffected, though deep, dreamy and simply saturated with mysticism and superstitions. Their belief in mysticism is particularly naive. Nothing seems to them less supernatural and more normal than the direct intervention of the Divinity in human affairs. As God is omnipotent, why should any one be surprised at his hearing our prayers or giving us an abnormal proof of his pity and kindness? To their minds the miraculous is a rare, irregular and inexplicable phenomenon on which no man can count, but which is perfectly natural. Our contrary view of the miraculous certainly presupposes very clear ideas on nature and her laws. To accept or deny the supernatural, the first essential is to know that there are rational methods and physical sciences.
Madame D - - then described as one of the most typical - and alarming - characteristics of the Russian peasant the rapidity and suddenness with which he sometimes leaps from one extreme to the other, from submissiveness to revolt, apathy to fury, asceticism to licentiousness, gentleness to ferocity. She ended as follows:
"What makes our moujiks so difficult to understand is the fact that the same mind bears within it every conflicting possibility. When you return home get your Dostoïevsky, look for the portrait of the dreamer in The Brothers Karamazov, and you'll never forget what I've just told you."
"This is the portrait: It is a forest in winter; in its depths stands a moujik, dressed in a ragged caftan. He seems to be thinking, but he is not thinking; he is lost in a vague dream. If you touched him he would start and look at you without seeing, like a sleeper on waking. He would probably come to himself very quickly; but if you asked him what his dream was about he could not tell you, because he remembers nothing. And yet he retains strong impressions of this torpor, impressions which delight him and accumulate subconsciously. One day, perhaps after a year of reveries such as this, he will start out., leave everything behind him and go to Jerusalem to win salvation; or just as likely he will set fire to his village, or perhaps commit his crime first and make his pilgrimage afterwards. There are many types like that among our people... ."
This evening, at the Marie Theatre, Tchechinskaïa was dancing Gisela and Paquita, masterpieces of old-time choreography, the conventional and acrobatic art in which the genius of the Fanny Elsslers and Taglionis once triumphed. The archaic character of the two ballets is heightened by the defects and qualities of the principal interpreter. Tchechinskaïa is entirely without charm, feeling or poetry; but her formal and cold style, the tireless vigour of her pivoting, the mechanical precision of her entrechats and the giddy agility of her pirouettes make all the enthusiasts wild with delight.
During the last interval I spent a few minutes in the box of the director of the imperial theatres, Teliakovsky, where the prowess of Tchechinskaïa and her partner, Vladimirov, was being celebrated in terms of rhapsody. An old aide-de-camp of the Emperor said to me with a subtle smile:
"Our enthusiasm may seem somewhat exaggerated to you, Ambassador; but Tchechinskaïa's art represents to us, or at any rate men of my age, something that you don't perhaps see."
He offered me a cigarette, and continued in a melancholy tone:
"The old ballets, which were the joy of my youth - somewhere about 1875, in the reign of our dear Emperor Alexander II., alas! - presented us with a very close picture of what Russian society was, and ought to be. Order, punctiliousness, symmetry, work well done everywhere; the result of which was refined enjoyment and pleasure in perfect taste. Whereas these horrible modern ballets - Russian ballets, as you call them in Paris - a dissolute and poisoned art - why, they're revolution, anarchy! ... "
Monday, May 1, 1916.
On April 29 the English suffered a severe reverse in Mesopotamia. General Townshend, who had occupied an entrenched position at Kut-el-Amara, on the Tigris, has been compelled to capitulate by lack of food and ammunition, after a siege of one hundred and forty-eight days; the garrison was reduced to 9,000 men.
Simultaneously a grave insurrection, fomented by German agents, has broken out in Ireland. A regular battle between the rebels and English troops has made Dublin a scene of blood and fire. Order appears to have been restored now.
Tuesday, May 2, 1916.
I have had tea with Princess K - -. She was in a talkative and even expansive mood. For once, she took off her mask of irony, her "black domino," though I must admit it suits her to perfection. Glancing back over her past, a past which is so full (though she is not yet thirty), and yet so empty, she told me several stories of her sentimental experiences, from which I gather that the Russian woman, in her duel with man, is almost always vanquished beforehand, because she is much more refined in her instincts, critical in her tastes, cultivated in mind, emotional in temperament; she is much harder to please in the selection of her sensations and pleasures, more poetical in imagination, more exacting and expert in all the secrets of passion. Between man and her there is a sort of moral, if not physical, anachronism, and she represents a far higher stage in the evolution of the human plant.
By way of retort I referred to certain men, mutual acquaintances, who seem to me to combine all the qualities of heart and manner any woman could desire. She replied:
"You only see them in society. If you could see them alone! The best of them can only love us just enough to make us suffer."
"You've just put into words," I said, "what Madame de Staël thought of Lord Byron: "I'll give him credit for just enough delicacy of feeling to destroy the happiness of a woman."
Wednesday, May 3, 1916.
Exchange of telegrams between the Russian and French High Commands on the subject of the military assistance so long promised by Rumania.
General Alexeiev emphasizes the exaggerated and unreasonable character of the latest demands of the Rumanian General Staff. General Iliesco has actually stated that he could no longer be satisfied with the two conditions previously accepted, i.e.: (1) an attack by the Salonica army with the object of attracting to itself a large part of the Bulgarian forces, and (2) intervention by Russian forces in the Dobrudja to neutralize the rest of the Bulgarian army. He is now demanding that the Russians shall occupy the whole of the Rustchuk region on the right bank of the Danube.
General Alexeiev has judiciously pointed out to General Joffre that "the consequence of this new demand would be to compel us to occupy the line Varna-Shumla-Razgrad and Rustchuk. Even if we accepted this condition, which would transfer the centre of gravity of our operations to the south and our extreme left wing, the Rumanians would certainly do what they always do and put forward some fresh demand, with a view to gaining time until they are certain of attaining the object they have in view without any effort of their own. We must make the Rumanians realize that the adherence of Rumania is not an absolute necessity to the Allied Powers. Rumania can count on a future reward which will correspond exactly to the efforts she has made, and her military achievements."
General Joffre has told me that he entirely agrees with General Alexeiev's opinion: "I share his view that it would be useful to tell Rumania that her help, though desirable, is not indispensable to us; and that if that country wishes ultimately to obtain the rewards it covets, it must make up its mind to give the Allied armies the effective co-operation of its arms in the form we require... "