Volume I - CHAPTER III - AUGUST 3-17, 1914
Monday, August 3, 1914.
The Minister for the Interior, Nicholas-Alexeivitch Maklakov, tells me that general mobilization is in progress in perfect order in the whole territory of the empire amid a great outburst of patriotism.
I had no doubts on that score; the most I feared was local incidents.
B - - , one of my informants, who moves in advanced circles, said to me:
"No strike or disorder is to be anticipated at this moment. The national enthusiasm is too strong. In all the factories and workshops the leaders of the Socialist Party have therefore advocated resignation to military duty; besides, they're convinced that this war will lead to the triumph of the proletariat."
"The triumph of the proletariat ... even in case of victory?"
"Yes, because the war will effect a fusion of all the social classes; it will bring together the peasant, the workman and the student; it will once more reveal the scandal of our bureaucracy and that will compel the Government to reckon with public opinion. Lastly it will introduce a liberal and even democratic element - the lieutenants of the reserve - into the aristocratic officer caste. This element played an important political part even during the Manchurian War ... The military revolts of 1905 would not have been possible without it."
"Our first business is to win. We shall see what comes afterwards."
The President of the Duma, Michael Vladimirovitch Rodzianko, has also spoken to me in very reassuring terms - for the present.
"The war," he said, "has suddenly put an end to all our domestic strife. Throughout the Duma the one thought is of fighting Germany. The Russian people has not known such a wave of patriotism since 1812."
The Grand Duke Nicholas Nicholaievitch has been appointed generalissimo, provisionally, as the Tsar reserves the right to assume personal command of his armies at a more convenient season.
This appointment led to a very lively discussion in the council His Majesty held with his ministers. His Majesty wanted to put himself at the head of his troops at once. Goremykin, Krivoshein, Admiral Grigorovitch and particularly Sazonov respectfully persisted that he should not risk compromising his prestige and authority in the direction of a war which promises to be a very severe and dangerous struggle and at the outset of which anything might happen.
"It's to be expected," said Sazonov, "that we may be forced to retreat during the first few weeks. Your Majesty ought not to be exposed to the criticism such a retreat would be bound to give rise to in the nation and even in the army."
The Tsar in protest referred to the example of his ancestor, Alexander I in 1805 and 1812. Sazonov judiciously replied:
"If your Majesty would graciously read the memoirs and correspondence of that period you would see how your august ancestor was criticised and blamed for taking command of the operations in person. You would also see how many evils might have been avoided if he had remained in his capital to control affairs from the head."
Ultimately the Tsar adopted this advice.
General Sukhomlinov, Minister for War, who has long coveted the august post of generalissimo, is furious at finding himself passed over in favour of the Grand Duke Nicholas. Unhappily, he's the sort of man who wants his revenge ... .
Tuesday, August 4, 1914.
Yesterday Germany declared war on France.
General mobilization is in active progress throughout the empire and without the least incident. As a matter of fact five or six hours has been gained on the time table of the covering troops.
Sazonov, whose virtue of disinterestedness and integrity I have often appreciated, has of late shown himself in a light which raises him even higher in my eyes. In the present crisis he sees not only a political problem to be solved, but also - and in fact primarily - a moral problem in which religion itself is involved. The whole working of his mind is governed by the secret promptings of his conscience and his faith. Several times he has said to me:
"This action of Austria and Germany is as wicked as absurd: there's not a single element of morality about it; it outrages all the divine laws."
Seeing him utterly worn out this morning, with dark rings round his fevered eyes, I asked him how he managed to get through such an enormous amount of work with his delicate health. His reply was
"God sustains me."
Every day processions, with flags and ikons, have passed under the embassy windows, to a chorus of " Vive la France! Vive la France! "
Very mixed crowds they are, too: workmen, priests moujiks, students, male and female, servants, shop assistants, etc. Their enthusiasm seems genuine. But how far are the police responsible for these numerous demonstrations which take place at such regular intervals?
I put this question to myself at ten o'clock this evening when I was told that a mob had attacked the German Embassy and sacked it from top to bottom.
The German Embassy is a kolossal edifice in the most important square of the city, between the Cathedral of St. Isaac and the Marie Palace. It has a heavy façade in Finland granite, massive architraves, cyclopean masonry. On the roof two enormous bronze horses, with giants holding their bridles, all but bring down the whole building. Hideous as a work of art it is none the less a powerful piece of symbolism. With its coarse and blatant eloquence it emphasizes Germany's claim to domination in Russia.
The mob has invaded the building, smashed the windows, torn down the tapestries, ripped up the pictures, thrown all the furniture (including the Renaissance marbles and bronzes which formed Pourtalès' admirable private collection) out of the windows. By way of conclusion the marauders hurled the equestrian group on the façade down into the street. The sack lasted more than an hour under the tolerant eye of the police.
Has this act of vandalism any symbolic meaning
Can it be said to presage the ruin of German influence in Russia?
My Austro-Hungarian colleague, Count Szapary, is still in Petersburg and cannot understand why his government is apparently in so little of a hurry to break off relations with the Russian Government.
Wednesday, August 5, 1914.
To-day at Notre-Dame de France the French colony in St. Petersburg held a solemn mass to pray for the divine blessing on our armies.
At five o'clock this morning Buchanan rang me up to say that during the night he had received a telegram from the Foreign Office announcing England's participation in the war. I had therefore given orders that the British flag was to be added to the French and Russian flags which draped the high altar.
In the church I had my usual place in the right transept. Buchanan arrived almost simultaneously.
"My ally! My dear ally!" he said with great emotion.
In the centre of the front row two chairs were placed, one for Prince Bielosselsky, the Emperor's first aide-de-camp, representing His Majesty, and the other for General Krupensky, the Grand Duke Nicholas's aide-de-camp, representing the generalissimo.
In the left transept were all the Russian ministers with perhaps a hundred officials, officers, etc., behind them.
A silent and composed assembly filled the whole church.
I could see the same expression of happy surprise on the face of every one who entered. The Union Jack over the altar told them all that England was henceforth our ally.
The flags of the three nations blend very eloquently. Composed of the same colours, blue, white and red, they are a very picturesque and striking expression of the interdependence of the three nations of the coalition.
At the end of mass the choir sang in turn:
Domine salvam fac Rempublicam ...
Domine, salvam fac Imperatorem Nicolaum
Domine, salvam fac Regem Brittannicum ...
When mass was over Sazonov told me that the Tsar would like to see me in the afternoon at Peterhof.
I reached the little Alexandria Cottage about three o'clock and was immediately ushered into His Majesty's study.
As etiquette decreed I was in full dress, but the usual ceremonial had been simplified. A Master of Ceremonies conducted me from Petersburg to Peterhof, an aide-de-camp announced me and there was the inevitable courier of the imperial household in XVIIIth century costume.
The Tsar's study on the first floor gets its light from wide windows from which the Gulf of Finland can be seen stretching away to the horizon. The furniture consist solely of two tables, piled high with papers, a settee and six leather chairs, and a few engravings of military subjects. The Tsar, in field uniform, received me standing:
"I wanted to tell you," he said, "all my gratitude, all my admiration for your country. In showing herself so faithful an ally France has given the world an immortal example of patriotism and loyalty. Please convey my very warmest thanks to the Government of the Republic."
He uttered the last sentence in a penetrating voice which trembled a little. His emotion was obvious. I replied:
"The Government of the Republic will greatly appreciate your Majesty's thanks. It deserves them for the promptitude and resolution with which it has accepted its obligations as an ally when once it had to recognize that the cause of peace was irreparably lost. It did not hesitate an instant and from that moment onwards my only task has been to convey assurances of support and solidarity to your ministers."
"I know, I know! ... I have always believed in France's word."
Then we talked of the struggle which is about to open. The Tsar thinks it will be very severe, protracted and perilous:
"We must arm ourselves with courage and patience. Speaking for myself, I shall fight to the bitter end. To win victory I shall sacrifice my last rouble and my last soldier. As long as a single one of the enemy is on Russian or French soil I shall never sign peace."
It was in a very calm and firm tone that the Tsar made this solemn declaration. In his voice - and still more in his look - there was a curious hotchpot of resolution and placidity, a kind of ruthless determination and passivity, dreaminess and precision; as if he were not expressing his own will but rather obeying some external power, some decree of Providence or destiny.
Less tutored than he in the creed of fatalism I summoned up all the vigour at my command to represent the terrible danger France would have to face in the first phase of the war:
"The French army will have to face the formidable onset of twenty-five German corps. I therefore beg Your Majesty to order your troops to take the offensive immediately. If they do not do so there is a risk that the French army will be crushed. Then the whole German mass will turn en bloc against Russia."
He replied, emphasizing each word:
"The moment mobilization is complete I shall order an advance. My troops are most enthusiastic. The attack will be pressed with the greatest vigour. No doubt you know that the Grand Duke Nicholas is extraordinarily forceful."
The Tsar then asked me about various military technical matters, the effectives of the German army, the joint plans of the French and Russian General Staffs, the assistance of the English army and fleet, the eventual attitude of Turkey and Italy and so on - all of them questions on which he seemed to me very well informed.
The audience had lasted an hour when the Tsar suddenly lapsed into silence. He seemed embarrassed and looked at me gravely in a somewhat gauche manner with his hands half held out. All at once he took me in his arms:
"Monsieur I'Ambassadeur, let me embrace in you my dear and glorious France!"
From the modest Alexandria Cottage I went to the sumptuous Znamenka Palace, the Grand Duke Nicholas's residence, which is quite near.
The generalissimo received me in his enormous study where maps were spread out on all the tables. He came towards me with his quick, firm stride, and just as three days ago at the Winter Palace squeezed the life out of me:
"God and Joan of Arc are with us!" he exclaimed. "We shall win! ... Isn't it providential that this war is for such a noble cause, that our two nations have responded so enthusiastically to the mobilization decree, and the circumstances are so propitious?"
I did my best to rise to this note of military and mystic grandiloquence, the naive form of which did not prevent me realising its generous inspiration; but I refrained from invoking Joan of Arc; at the moment it is our business not to "hunt the English out of France," but to get them there, and as soon as possible.
Without feeling my way I broached the question - the most serious of all:
"How soon will you order the offensive, Monseigneur?"
"I shall order the offensive as soon as the operation is feasible and I shall attack à fond ... Perhaps I shan't even wait till the concentration of all my corps is complete. As soon as I feel myself strong enough I shall attack. It will probably be the 14th August."
He then explained to me his general plan of operations (1) a group of armies operating on the Prussian front (2) a group of armies operating on the Galician front (3) a mass in Poland with the task of bearing down on Berlin as soon as the southern armies have succeeded in holding up " and "fixing" the enemy.
His whole being exhaled a fierce energy as he stood thus, unveiling his plans, his finger on the map. His incisive, measured speech, flashing eyes and quick, nervous movements, hard, steel-trap mouth and gigantic stature personify the imperious and impetuous audacity which was the dominant characteristic of the great Russian strategists such as Suvorov and Skobelev. But there is something else about Nicholas Nicholaievitch, something irascible, despotic and implacable which places him in the true line of the Muscovite voivodes of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. And does he not share with them their child-like devotion, their superstitious credulity, their taste for the crude and vigorous life? Whatever there may be in this historical relationship I can certainly say that the Grand Duke is a man of high spirit and that the supreme command of the Russian armies could not be confided to stronger or more loyal hands.
Towards the end of our conversation he said:
"Please convey to General Joffre my heartiest compliments and the assurances of my unshakable confidence in victory. Tell him that side by side with my own Commander-in-Chief's flag I shall carry the flag he gave me when I was at the French manoeuvres two years ago."
He shook my hand vigorously and led me to the door:
"And now," he cried, "into God's hands! "
At half-past five I rejoined the imperial train which brought me back to Petersburg.
A German army entered Belgian territory this evening.
Thursday, August 6, 1914.
This morning my Austro-Hungarian colleague, Szapary, handed Sazonov a declaration of war. This declaration alleged two reasons: (1) the attitude adopted by the Russian Government in the Austro-Serbian dispute; (2) the fact that according to a communication from Berlin, Russia had taken it upon herself to commence hostilities against Germany.
The Germans are entering western Poland. Since the day before yesterday they have occupied Kalish, Czenstschowa and Bendin. This swift advance shows how wise the Russian General Staff were in 1910 in withdrawing their frontier garrisons and concentration zone a hundred kilometres further east - a step which met with vigorous criticism in France at the time.
At midday I left for Tsarkoïe-Selo where I was to lunch with the Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich(1) and his morganatic wife, the Countess von Hohenfelsen, with whom I have been very friendly for many years.
During the whole run my car was catching up and passing infantry regiments on the march with their field equipment. Each regiment was followed by an interminable string of vehicles, ammunition waggons, baggage carts, Army Service Corps lorries, ambulances, field kitchens, telegas, lineikas, peasants' carts, etc., The vehicles followed each other in any sort of order; sometimes they cut across the fields in a jumbled and picturesque confusion which reminded one of an Asiatic horde. The infantrymen looked fine though their march was hampered by rain and mud. Many women had joined the column to accompany their husbands to the first halt - for the last goodbye. Several had children in their arms. One of them made a very touching impression on me. She was very young and had a delicate face and fine neck, a red and white scarf tied round her fair hair, a blue cotton sarafane drawn in at the waist by a leather belt, and she was pressing a baby to her breast. She was striding out as well as she could to keep pace with the man at the rear of the file - a fine fellow, tanned and muscular. They did not exchange a word but gazed fixedly at each other with loving, haggard eyes. Three times in succession I saw the young mother offer the baby to the soldier for a kiss.
The Grand Duke Paul and Countess von Hohenfelsen had invited only one guest in addition to myself, Michael Stakhovitch, Member of the Council of Empire for the zemstvo of Orel, one of the Russians who are particularly impregnated with French ideas. Thus I found myself in an atmosphere of warm and intimate sympathy.
As I entered they all greeted me with a loud: "Vive la France." In the simple and straightforward manner which is all his own the Grand Duke expressed his admiration for the burst of generous enthusiasm with which the French nation had rushed to help its ally:
"I know your Government did not hesitate a moment to support us when Germany forced us to defend ourselves . That alone is splendid. But it is extraordinary, nay sublime, that the whole nation at once realized its duty as an ally and that there has not been the slightest reluctance or protest in any class of society or any political party!
Stakhovitch chimed in:
"Yes, quite sublime! Of course France to-day is only following up her historical tradition; she has always been the land of the sublime."
I agreed, speaking with some emphasis:
"That's perfectly true. The French nation has frequently been accused of scepticism and frivolity, but unquestionably no nation has so often thrown itself into a conflict for purely disinterested motives or sacrificed itself for the cause of idealism."
Then I gave my guests an account of the long series of events which have marked the last two weeks. On their part they told me a large number of facts and episodes which furnish proof of the unanimous determination of all the Russians to save Serbia and beat Germany.
"No one in Russia would hear of us allowing the little Serbian nation to be crushed," said Stakhovitch.
I then asked him what were the views on the war of the members of the Extreme Right in the Council of Empire and the Duma, that large and influential party which, through the mouth of Prince Mestchersky, Stcheglovitov, Baron Rosen, Purichkievitch and Markov, has always advocated an understanding with German imperialism. He assured me that that doctrine, which has always been inspired mainly by considerations of domestic policy, had been utterly ruined by the attack upon Serbia and added:
"The war now beginning is a duel to the death between Slavism and Germanism. There is not a Russian who does not know it."
On rising from the table I only gave myself time to smoke a cigarette and then left for Petersburg.
Near Pulkovo I passed a regiment of light infantry of the Guard which was leaving for the frontier. Its commander, a general, recognized the French Ambassador's car from the livery of my servant. He sent one of his officers to ask me to get out so that he could parade his men before me.
I got out and went up to the General who leaned down from his horse to embrace me.
At a sharp word of command the regiment halted, the ranks closed and dressed and the band went to the head of the column. While these preliminaries were in progress the General yelled at me:
"We'll destroy these filthy Prussians! ... There must be no more Prussia, no more Germany! ... William at St. Helena! ... '"
The march-past began. The men looked proud and well set-up. As each company passed the General rose in his stirrups and gave the order:
"Franzovski Pasol! The French Ambassador! Hurrah!"
The men cheered frantically:
When the last file had passed the General leaned down to embrace me again and said in a grave tone:
"I'm very pleased to have met you, Monsieur l'Ambassadeur. All my men will share my feeling that it's a good augury to have met France at the first stage."
Then he galloped off to join the head of the column and as I was getting back into my car he bellowed his war cry:
"William at St. Helena! William at St. Helena ! ... "
At four o'clock I had a long conversation with my Italian colleague, Marquis Carlotti di Riparbella: I was at some pains to show him that the present crisis offers his country an unhoped-for opportunity of realizing its national aspirations:
"Whatever my personal convictions may be I'm not presumptuous enough to guarantee that the armies and fleets of the Triple Entente will be victorious. But I have a clear right - especially after my conversation with the Tsar yesterday - to assure you of the spirit which animates the three powers and their implacable determination to crush Germany. All three are at one in their resolution to put an end to the German tyranny. The problem being stated thus, you can judge for yourself on which side are the chances of success and draw the inevitable inferences."
We left together and I went to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs where I had a multitude of questions to settle - the blockade, repatriation, telegraphic correspondence, press, police and so on, not to mention diplomatic questions.
Sazonov tells me he sent for Diamandy, the Rumanian Minister, to ask for the immediate help of the Rumanian army against Austria. In exchange he offers the Bucharest Cabinet the right to annex all Austro-Hungarian territory now inhabited by a Rumanian population, i.e., the larger part of Transylvania and the western Bukovina. In addition the Triple Entente powers will guarantee Rumania the integrity of her territory.
Lastly Sazonov has telegraphed to the Russian Minister at Sofia to ask him to secure the benevolent neutrality of Bulgaria in return for the promise of certain districts to be detached from Serbian Macedonia if Serbia acquires direct access to the Adriatic Sea.
Friday, August 7, 1914.
Yesterday the Germans entered Liège; some of the forts are still resisting.
Sazonov is proposing to the French and British Governments to enter into immediate negotiations at Tokio for the accession of Japan to our alliance. The allied powers would recognize the Japanese Government's right to annex the German territory of Kiaochau; Russia and Japan would mutually guarantee the integrity of each other's Asiatic possessions.
This evening I dined at the Yacht Club on the Morskaïa. In this eminently conservative body I found confirmation of what Stakhovitch told me yesterday as to the feeling of the Extreme Right towards Germany. The very men who last week were protesting most loudly that it was necessary to strengthen orthodox Tsarism by a close alliance with Prussian autocracy are now swearing that the bombardment of Belgrade is an intolerable insult to the whole Slav world and showing themselves as warlike as any. Others say nothing or confine themselves to the remark that Germany and Austria have dealt a mortal blow at the monarchical principle in Europe.
Before returning to the Embassy I called in at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs as Sazonov wanted to see me.
"I'm rather perturbed," he said, "at some news I've had from Constantinople. I'm very much afraid that Germany and Austria are there engaged in a scheme against us after their own hearts."
"Whatever is it?"
"I'm afraid that the Austro-Hungarian fleet is going to take refuge in the Sea of Marmora. You can imagine the result!"
Saturday, August 8, 1914.
Yesterday a French army entered Belgium on its way to succour the Belgian army. Is the fate of France once more to be decided between the Sambre and the Meuse?
To-day there was a sitting of the Council of Empire and the Duma. After August 2, the Tsar announced his intention of convoking an extraordinary session of the legislature "so that I may be in perfect union with my people." This convocation would have been regarded as perfectly natural and necessary in any other country but here it has been interpreted as a manifestation of "constitutionalism." In liberal circles the Tsar is regarded all the more kindly for it is not forgotten that the President of the Council, Goremykin, the Minister of the Interior, Maklakov, the Minister of justice, Stcheglovitov, and the Procurator of the Holy Synod, Sabler, affect to regard the Duma as the lowest and most negligible part of the state organism.
I sat with Sir George Buchanan in the front row of the diplomatic gallery.
The session opened with a moving speech by the President, Rodzianko. His eloquent and sonorous oratory roused the assembly to great enthusiasm.
Next the aged Goremykin tottered to the tribune. Forcing out his words with difficulty in a feeble voice, which seemed every now and then to be exhausted and about to expire. he declared that "Russia did not desire the war, that the Imperial Government had done everything possible to save the cause of peace, clinging even to the slightest chance of damming the deluge of blood which threatens to engulf the world." He concluded by saying that Russia could not shrink from the challenge thrown down to her by the German powers and in any case "if we had yielded our humiliation would not have changed the course of affairs." In emphasizing these last words his voice became a little stronger and his feeble old eyes flamed up for a moment. It might be said that this sceptical old man, laden with labours, honours and experience, found a malicious pleasure in proclaiming his disillusioned fatalism.
Sazonov followed him on the tribune. He was pale and nervous. From the very outset he cleared his conscience: "When history brings the day of unbiased judgment I am convinced it will justify us." He vigorously reminded his audience that "it was not Russian policy which imperilled the peace of the world," and that if Germany had so desired she could "with one word, one authoritative word," have stopped Austria in her bellicose career. Then in warm tones he exalted "magnanimous France, chivalrous France which has risen at our side in the defence of right and justice." At these words all the deputies rose, turned towards me and gave round after round of cheers for France. All the same I observed that the cheers were not very enthusiastic on the benches occupied by the Left: the liberal parties have never forgiven us for prolonging the life of Tsarism by our financial subsidies.
The cheering broke out afresh when Sazonov said that England also had recognized the moral impossibility of remaining indifferent to the outrage on Serbia. His peroration accurately translated the thought which has inspired all our actions and reflections in the last weeks: "We will not accept the yoke of Germany and her ally in Europe." He descended from the tribune to the accompaniment of further cheers.
After the sitting was suspended all the party leaders furnished proof of their patriotism by declaring their readiness to make any sacrifice to save Russia and the Slav peoples from German hegemony. When the President put the credits asked for by the Government to the vote the Socialist Party announced that it would abstain from voting, being unwilling to accept any responsibility for the policy of Tsarism: but it exhorted the democracy of Russia to defend its native soil against foreign invasion. "Workmen and peasants, summon up all your energies to defend our country; we will free it afterwards!" Except for the abstention of the Socialists the military credits have been voted without a single dissentient voice.
When I left the Tauride Palace with Buchanan our cars had some difficulty in making their way through the crowd that swarmed round and warmly cheered us.
My impression of this session is satisfactory. The Russian people did not want the war and has even been surprised by the war, but it is firmly resolved to face the effort it requires. On the other hand the Government and the ruling classes realise that the fate of Russia is henceforth indissolubly associated with the destinies of France and England. This second point is not less important than the first.
Sunday, August 9, 1914.
Yesterday the French Troops entered Mulhausen.
The Grand Duke Nicholas, who has not yet transferred his headquarters to the army front, sent me his Chief of Staff, General Janushkevitch, to tell me that mobilization has been all but completed under the best auspices and that the concentration is quite up to time. He added that as the Government had every confidence in the maintenance of order in St. Petersburg the troops in the capital and its suburbs were now to be sent to the front.
We then talked about the operations in prospect. General Janushkevitch confirmed (1) that the Vilna Army will take the offensive in the direction of Königsberg; (2) that the Warsaw Army will at once be thrown on to the left bank of the Vistula to guard the flanks of the Vilna Army; (3) that a general offensive will begin on August 14.
At half-past six I took my car to Tsarskoe Selo, to dine with the Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna.(2)
The Grand Duchess had with her her eldest son and daughter-in-law, the Grand Duke Cyril Vladimirovitch and the Grand Duchess Victoria Feodorovna, her son-in-law and her daughter, Prince Nicholas of Greece and the Grand Duchess Helena Vladimirovna, and her maids of honour and some close friends.
The table was set in the garden in a tent three sides of which were open. The air was pure and soft. From the rose beds a balmy odour filled the air. The sun, which was high in the sky notwithstanding the late hour, shed a soft light and scattered diaphanous shadows around us.
Conversation was general, frank and warm. Of course the only subject was the war. But one topic came up every moment - the distribution of the higher commands and the composition of the staffs. Some criticized the appointments already made. Others tried to guess the appointments the Tsar had still to make. All the rivalries of the court and the drawing-rooms betrayed themselves in the various suggestions. Every now and then I thought I was living through a chapter of Tolstoy's War and Peace.
When dinner was over the Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna took me to the bottom of the garden and made me sit by her on a seat.
"Now we can talk without restraint," she said. "I have a feeling that the Emperor and Russia are playing for a supreme stake. This is not a political war as so many others have been. It is a duel between Slavism and Germanism. One of the two must succumb. I have seen many people these last few days; my ambulances and hospital trains have brought me into contact with folk of all social circles and classes. I can assure you that no one has any illusions about the serious nature of the struggle on which we have embarked. From the Tsar down to the humblest moujik all are determined to do their duty unflinchingly. We shall not shrink from any sacrifice. If our beginning is unfortunate - which God forbid! - you'll see the miracles of 1812 again."
"It is certainly probable that we shall have great difficulties at the outset. We must expect anything, even a disaster. All I ask of Russia is to hold fast."
"She will hold. Don't doubt it!"
To induce the Grand Duchess to speak her mind on a more delicate subject I congratulated her on the high courage she was showing, for I was bound to assume that her firm-mindedness was not divorced from a terrible inward wrench.
"I'm glad I can speak freely with you. Many a time in the last few days have I turned the searchlight on my conscience. I have seen into the very depths of my soul. But neither in my heart nor my mind have I found anything which is not utterly devoted to my Russian fatherland. And I have thanked God for that! Is it because the first inhabitants of Mecklenburg and their first rulers, my ancestors, were Slavs? It may be so, but I rather think that it is my forty years' residence in Russia - all the happiness I have known here, all the dreams that have come to me, all the affection and kindness I have received - which has given me a wholly Russian soul. I am only a Mecklenburger on one point: in my hatred for the Emperor William. He represents what I have been taught from my childhood to detest the most - the tyranny of the Hohenzollerns. Yes, it is the Hohenzollerns who have perverted, demoralized, degraded and humiliated Germany and gradually destroyed in her all elements of idealism and generosity, refinement and charity."
She thus gave vent to her anger in a long diatribe which made me feel all the sentiments of inveterate hatred, of mute and tenacious detestation which the small and once independent states of Germany have for the despotic house of Prussia.
About ten o'clock I took my leave of the Grand Duchess as a mass of work awaited me at the embassy.
The night was clear and warm. The moon, a wan and ghostly moon, drew silver scarves here and there across the great. featureless plain. In the west, where the Gulf of Finland lies, the horizon was veiled in coppery wreaths.
When I got back at half-past eleven a bundle of telegrams which had arrived during the evening were brought to me.
It was nearly 2 a.m. when I got into bed.
Too tired to sleep I took a book, one of the few books one can open in this hour of universal agitation and historical convulsion - the Bible. Once more I read the Revelation and stopped at this passage:
And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword ... And I looked and beheld a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.
To-day it is men who will play the part of the "beasts of the earth."
Monday, August 10, 1914.
Sazonov is pressing the Italian Government to join our alliance. He is proposing a compact based on the following terms:
(1) The Italian army and fleet will immediately attack the Austro-Hungarian army and fleet; (2) after the war Trent and the ports of Trieste and Valona will be annexed by Italy.
From Sofia our impressions are not reassuring. The Tsar Ferdinand is capable of any infamy or crime when his vanity or his hatreds are at stake. I certainly know of three countries which are the object of his implacable hatred - Serbia, Rumania and Russia. I said as much to Sazonov but he interrupted me:
"What! The Tsar Ferdinand has a grudge against Russia! Whatever for?"
"In the first place he accuses the Russian Government of having taken Serbia's side, and even Rumania's in 1913. Then there are his old grudges which are innumerable ... "
"But what grudges? We have always loaded him with favours. When he came here in 1910 the Tsar treated him with the same honour and respect as if he had been the sovereign of a great kingdom. What more could we have done?"
"Why, it's that visit of 1910 which is one of his bitterest complaints. Just after he got back to Sofia he sent for me to the palace and said: 'My dear Minister, I've sent for you because I want your help in disentangling the impressions I have brought with me from St. Petersburg. The truth is I haven't succeeded in finding out which they hate most, my people, my work or myself.'"
"He must be mad!"
"It's not too strong a word ... . Undoubtedly this individual shows signs of nervous degeneracy and psychic disturbances - impulses, hallucinations, idées fixes, melancholia, megalomania, a dread of persecution. They only make him all the more dangerous for he brings consummate skill and an uncommonly astute mind to the service of his ambitions and hatreds."
"I don't know how much would be left of his cleverness if the perfidy were eliminated from it. However that may be we cannot keep too watchful an eye on the doings of Ferdinand. I thought I ought to let him know that if he intrigues with Austria against Serbia, Russia will definitely withdraw her friendship from the Bulgarian people. Savinsky, our minister at Sofia, is very shrewd; he will carry out his task with all the tact desirable."
"That's not enough. There are other arguments which appeal very strongly to the clique of Bulgarian politicians. We should have recourse to them without delay."
"I think so, too. We'll discuss this again."
The war appears to have created an extraordinary wave of patriotism among the Russian people.
The information, both official and private, which reaches me from every part of Russia is always the same. In Moscow, Yaroslav, Kazan, Simbirsk, Tula, Kiev, Kharkov, Odessa, Rostov, Samara, Tiflis, Orenburg, Tomsk, Irkutsk - in fact everywhere - there are the same popular demonstrations, the same grave and religious enthusiasm, the same impulse to rally round the Tsar, the same faith in victory, the same exaltation of the national conscience. No opposition, no dissentient voice. The bad days of 1905 seem to have gone from the memory of all. The collective soul of Holy Russia has never manifested itself so forcibly since 1812.
Tuesday, August 11, 1914.
The French troops which had occupied Mulhausen with such gay boldness have been obliged to evacuate it.
The popular hatred of the Germans continues to manifest itself throughout Russia in deeds of violence, causing much material damage. The supremacy Germany had won in every department of Russian economic life - a supremacy which was usually tantamount to a monopoly - justifies only too thoroughly this brutal reaction of national sentiment. It is difficult to give an exact figure for the number of German subjects in Russia, but it would not be far wrong to fix it at 170,000, compared with 120,000 Austro-Hungarians, 10,000 French, and 8,000 English. The table of imports is even more eloquent. During last year German goods were imported to the value of 643,000,000 roubles, whereas English imports totalled 170,000,000 only, French imports 56,000,000, and Austro-Hungarian imports 35,000,000.
To the elements of German influence in Russia must be added a whole population of German immigrants, speaking the German language, retaining German traditions and counting not less than 2,000,000 souls, settled in the Baltic Provinces, the Ukraine and the valley of the lower Volga.
Lastly - and above all - there are the "Baltic Barons," who have gradually made a "corner" in all the high court appointments and the best posts in the army and the administrative and diplomatic services. For one hundred and fifty years the feudal castes of the Baltic Provinces has supplied Tsarism with its most devoted servants and its most formidable reactionary weapon. It was the Baltic nobility which ensured the triumph of autocratic absolutism by crushing the insurrection of December, 1825. It is the Baltic nobility again which has always directed the work of repression whenever the liberal or revolutionary spirit has awakened from its slumbers. It is the Baltic nobility which more than anything else has contributed to make the Russian state a great police bureaucracy in which the machinery of Tartar despotism and the methods of Prussian despotism are combined in a strange amalgam. It is the Baltic nobility which is the main framework of the régime.
To realize the aversion in which the "Baltic Barons" are held by the real Russians I have only to listen to E - -. the Director of Ceremonies, with whom I am on terms of confidence and whose uncompromising nationalism amuses me. He came to see me yesterday about some routine matter and displayed even more than his usual fire in railing against the Germans at court - Count Fredericks, the Minister of the Imperial Household, Baron Korff, Grand Master of the Ceremonies, General von Grünewaldt, Grand Equerry, Count Benckendorff, Grand Marshal, and the whole tribe of Megendorffs, Budbergs, Heydens, Stackelbergs, Nieroths, Kotzebues, Knorrings, etc., who encumber the imperial palaces. Emphasizing his words with an expressive gesture he wound up with:
"After the war we'll wring the necks of the Baltic Barons."
"But when you've wrung their necks are you quite sure you won't regret it? "
"What? ... What do you mean?... Do you really think the Russians aren't capable of governing themselves?"
"I'm sure they're perfectly capable. But it's dangerous to remove the tie beam of a structure without having another handy to take its place."
Wednesday, August 12, 1914.
While the military forces are mobilizing all the social organizations are equipping themselves for war. As usual the signal is given by Moscow, the true centre of the national life and the place where the spirit of enterprise is more awake and developed than anywhere else. A congress of all the zemstvos and municipalities of Russia is about to be held there to co-ordinate the multifarious branches of social activity for the purposes of the war - Red Cross work, relief for the poorer classes, distribution of man power, production of food, medicaments, clothing, etc. The idea behind the movement is to go to the help of the Government in the fulfilment of the complex tasks which the bureaucracy, idle, corrupt and blind to the needs of the people, is incapable of performing itself. It is devoutly to be hoped that the tchinovniks, with their usual suspicion, will not oppose this fine, spontaneous impulse as a matter of routine!
In the Nevsky Prospekt, the Liteïny and the Sadovaïa I have every day passed regiments on their way to the Warsaw station. These fine and well-equipped men made an excellent impression upon me with their grave and determined air and firm, rhythmical step. As I looked at them I reflected that a large number of them were already marked out for death. But what will be the feelings of those who return? What notions, reflections and clamours, what new spirit or new soul will they bring back with them to their own firesides?
Every great war has brought the Russian people a deep domestic crisis. The war of liberation of 1812 prepared that silent work of emancipation which all but swept away Tsarism in December, 1825. The unfortunate Crimean war resulted in the abolition of serfdom and necessitated the "Great Reforms" of 1860. The Balkan War of 1877-1878 with its costly victories, was followed by the explosion of nihilist terrorism. The ill-omened Manchurian War ended in the revolutionary outbreaks of 1905. What will follow the present war?
The Russian nation is so heterogeneous in its ethnical and moral composition, it is formed of elements so incongruous and anachronistic, it has always developed in such defiance of logic, through such a maze of clashes, shocks and inconsistencies, that its historic evolution utterly defies prophecy.
This evening I dined with Madame P - - and Countess R - -, whose husbands have just left for the front. They themselves are about to join a front line ambulance in Galicia as Red Cross sisters. On the strength of various letters they have received from the provinces and the country they assured me that mobilization has proceeded everywhere in a stimulating atmosphere of national pride and heroism.
We talked about the terrible test which modern weapons of war impose on the moral of the combatants; never before have human nerves been subjected to such a strain. Madame P - said to me:
"In that respect I'll guarantee the Russian soldier. He has no equal in remaining unshaken in the presence of death."
Countess R - -, however, who is usually so mentally alert and a great talker, was very silent. Leaning forward in her chair, her hands folded on her knees, her brows contracted, her eyes fixed on the ground, she seemed lost in thought.
Madame P - - asked her:
"What are you thinking of, Daria? You look like a sybil on her stool. Are you going to utter oracles?"
"No, I'm not thinking of the future, I'm thinking of the past, or rather of what it might have been. You're going to give me your opinion, Monsieur l'Ambassadeur. Yesterday I called on Madame Taneïev - you know, Anna Vyrubova's mother. There were five or six people present, the flower of the Rasputin set. They were arguing very seriously and looked very excited. My arrival was a cold douche as I'm not one of their crowd. Not I! After a somewhat awkward silence Anna Vyrubova reopened the conversation. In a peremptory tone - as if she wanted to teach me something - she declared that there would certainly have been no war if Rasputin had been at St. Petersburg, instead of half dead at Pokrovskok, when things began to go wrong between us and Germany(3). More than once she said:
"If the staretz(4) had been there, we should have had no war. I don't know what he would have done or advised but God would have inspired him, whereas the ministers have proved incapable of seeing or preventing anything. It's an absolute disaster that he hasn't been here to open the Emperor's eyes! Just look what determines the fate of empires. A harlot revenges herself on a dirty moujik; the Tsar of all the Russias at once loses his head. And here's the whole world on fire!"
Madame P - - interrupted in a shocked tone
"Daria, you shouldn't say things like that in front of the Ambassador, even in fun. It's dreadful to think that such talk goes on among the intimate friends of Their Majesties!"
Serious again, Countess R - - resumed
"All right! I'll be serious. Do you think the war was inevitable, Monsieur l'Ambassadeur. Could any personal influence have averted it?
"In the way the problem was set by the will of Germany the war was inevitable. In Petersburg, as in Paris and London, everything was done to save the cause of peace. It was impossible to go further in the path of concession. There was no alternative but to bow the knee to the Germanic powers and capitulate. Would Rasputin have advised the Tsar to do that? "
"You can't doubt it!" cried Madame P - - with indignation flaming in her eyes.
Thursday, August 13, 1914.
The Grand Duke Nicholas Nicholaievitch has informed me that the Vilna and Warsaw armies will take the offensive at dawn to-morrow. The armies earmarked for operations against Austria will do the same a little later. The Grand Duke leaves Petersburg this evening, taking with him my first Military Attaché, General de Laguiche, and the English Military Attaché, General Williams. General Headquarters is at Baranovici, between Minsk and Brest-Litovsk. I am keeping my second Military Attaché, Major Wehrlin, and my Naval Attaché, Commander Galland.
The Rumanian Government has declined the proposals of the Russian Government on the ground of the long and intimate friendship between King Carol and the Emperor Francis Joseph. But it has taken note of these proposals, the friendly nature of which it highly appreciates, and come to the conclusion that in the present phase of the conflict which divides Europe its duty is to confine its efforts to the maintenance of the balance of power in the Balkans.
The warning Sazonov asked me to convey to our navy a week ago has been in vain. Two large German cruisers, the Goeben and Breslau have succeeded in taking refuge in the Sea of Marmora. It is not even possible to doubt that the Turkish Government has been their accomplice.
There is great excitement at the Admiralty where the material damage to be expected from an attack on the Russian Black Sea coast, and still more its moral effect, is greatly feared.
Sazonov is looking still further ahead:
"By this surprise the Germans have doubled their prestige at Constantinople," he said. " If we don't take immediate action Turkey is lost to us ... not merely lost to us but she'll come out against us! And then we shall have to distribute our forces over the Black Sea coast and the Armenian and Persian frontiers!"
"What do you think should be done?"
"I've not yet come to any definite conclusion. At first sight it seems to me we ought to offer Turkey a solemn guarantee of her territorial integrity as the price of her neutrality; we could add a promise of great financial advantages at the expense of Germany."
I encouraged him to explore that path for the solution which is so urgently required.
"Now I'm going to tell you a secret, a great secret," said Sazonov. "The Emperor has decided to re-establish Poland and grant her a large measure of autonomy. His intentions will be announced to the Poles in a manifesto which will shortly be published by the Grand Duke Nicholas. His Majesty has ordered me to draw it up."
"Excellent! It's a magnificent move and it'll produce an enormous impression, not merely on the Poles but in France and England and throughout the world. When will the manifesto be issued?"
"In three or four days. I've submitted my draft to the Emperor and he has approved it. I'm sending it this evening to the Grand Duke Nicholas who may possibly require certain modifications of detail."
"But why does the Emperor entrust the publication of the manifesto to the Grand Duke. Why doesn't he issue it himself as a direct expression of his sovereign will? The moral effect would be all the more striking."
"That was my first idea too; but Goremykin and Maklakov who are hostile to the reconstitution of Poland observed, not without justice, that the Poles of Galicia and Posen are still under Austrian and Prussian domination; that the conquest of these two provinces is only an anticipation, a hope, so that the Emperor cannot consistently with his dignity address himself to future subjects, while the Grand Duke Nicholas, on the other hand, would not exceed his functions of Russian Commander-in-Chief if he addressed himself to the Slav peoples he has come to deliver. The Emperor came round to this view."
Then we philosophized about the accession of strength Russia would gain from the reconciliation of the two nations under the sceptre of the Romanovs. German expansion eastwards would thus be definitely arrested; all the problems of eastern Europe would wear a new aspect, to the great advantage of Slavism. Lastly, and chiefly, a wider, more generous and liberal spirit would be introduced into the relations of Tsarism with the various racial groups of the Empire.
Friday, August 14, 1914.
On the faith of God knows what rumours emanating from Constantinople, there is an idea in Paris and London that Russia is meditating an attack upon Turkey and is keeping back part of her forces for this onslaught in the near future. Sazonov, who has been informed of this simultaneously by Isvolsky and Benckendorff, displayed some bitterness in telling me of his disappointment at finding himself the object of so unmerited a suspicion in the eyes of his allies:
"How could they attribute such an idea to us? It's not merely false but ridiculous! The Grand Duke Nicholas told you himself that all our forces without exception are concentrated on the western frontier of the Empire, for one purpose and one purpose only: to crush Germany. Only this morning when I made my report to the Tsar His Majesty declared in his own words: I have told the Grand Duke Nicholas to force his way to Berlin at the earliest possible moment and at any cost. I regard our operations against Austria as of secondary importance only. Our primary object is the destruction of the German army. What more could anyone want? "
I soothed him as well as I could:
"Don't take things too much to heart. It's not in the least surprising that Germany is trying to make the Turks believe that you are preparing to attack them. Hence a certain amount of agitation in Constantinople. The French and English Ambassadors have reported the fact to their governments. That's all! The excellent news you have just given me will be all the more appreciated."
Saturday, August 15, 1914.
The Belgians are offering a stout resistance at Hasselt. Will the French army arrive in time to save them?
The Grand Duke Nicholas has sent to tell me from Baranovici that the concentration of his armies is proceeding at an appreciable advance on the time table, so that he proposes to extend his offensive.
Yesterday a Russian advance-guard entered Galicia at Sokal on the Bug and threw back the enemy in the direction of Lemberg.
This afternoon I had a long talk with General Sukhomlinov, the War Minister, with a view to a speedy settlement of a great number of military questions: transport, munitions, supplies, etc. Then we spoke of the operations in progress. The general plan is as follows:
(1) The north-western armies. - Three armies, comprising a dozen corps, have taken the offensive. Two of these armies are operating north of the Vistula; the third is operating south of that river and has already struck west from Warsaw. A fourth army of three corps will advance on Posen and Breslau and connect up these three armies with the forces operating against Austria.
(2) The south-western armies. - Three armies, comprising twelve corps, have the task of overrunning Galicia.
There is something about General Sukhomlinov that makes one uneasy. Sixty-two years of age, the slave of a rather pretty wife thirty-two years younger than himself, intelligent, clever and cunning, obsequious towards the Tsar and a friend of Rasputin, surrounded by a rabble who serve as intermediaries in his intrigues and duplicities, he is a man who has lost the habit of work and keeps all his strength for conjugal joys. With his sly look, his eyes always gleaming watchfully under the heavy folds of his eyelids, I know few men who inspire more distrust at first sight.
Three days hence the Tsar is to go to Moscow to make a solemn proclamation to his people from the Kremlin. He has invited Buchanan and me to go with him.
Sunday, August 16, 1914.
The Grand Duke Nicholas's manifesto to the Polish nation is published this morning. The press is unanimous in its satisfaction and most of the papers devote enthusiastic articles to celebrating the reconciliation of Poles and Russians in the bosom of the great Slav family.
The document is quite a work of art and has been drafted, on lines indicated by Sazonov, by one of the departmental heads of the Foreign Office, Prince Gregory Troubetzkoy. The translation into Polish has been done by Count Sigismund Wielopolsky, President of the Polish Group in the Council of Empire.
It was the day before yesterday that Sazonov asked Wielopolsky to come and see him, without giving him any reason. In a few words he told him what was afoot and then read him the manifesto. Wielopolsky listened, holding his breath, his hands clasped. After the moving peroration - -may the sign of the Cross, the symbol of the sufferings and resurrection of the peoples, glow in this new dawn! - he burst into tears and murmured: Blessed be God! Blessed be God!"
When Sazonov told me all this I quoted to him what Father Gratry said in 1863: "Since the partition of Poland Europe has been in a state of mortal sin."
"Then I've done good work for the salvation of Europe!" he cried.
From Poland we turned our conversation to Turkey. Sazonov is proposing to the French and British Governments to join with him in making the following declaration to the Ottoman Government:
(1) If Turkey will observe strict neutrality, Russia, France and England will guarantee the integrity of her territory;
(2) On the same condition the three allied powers undertake, in case of victory, to secure the insertion in the peace treaty of a clause liberating Turkey from the oppressive tutelage imposed on her by Germany in matters economic and financial. For example this clause would provide for the cancellation of the contracts for the Bagdad railway and other German enterprises.
I congratulated Sazonov on this double proposal which seemed to me wisdom itself. In fact I referred specifically to the first paragraph:
"So even if we are victorious Russia will make no claims, either territorial or political, on Turkey? . I'm sure you realize the importance I attach to my question. No doubt you know that the absolute independence of Turkey is one of the guiding principles of French diplomacy."
"Even if we are victorious we shall respect the independence and integrity of Turkey provided she stays neutral. The utmost we shall ask is that there shall be a new regime for the Straits, a regime generally applicable to all the Black Sea states, Russia, Turkey, Bulgaria, and Rumania.
Monday, August 17, 1914.
The French troops are making progress in the Upper Vosges and Upper Alsace. The Russian troops have embarked on a vigorous offensive on the frontier of East Prussia, on a line from Kovno to Königsberg.
The manifesto to the Poles is the subject of conversation everywhere. The general impression it has created remains excellent. The only criticism, more or less express, comes from partisans of the Extreme Right where an understanding with Prussian reaction has always been considered a vital condition for the maintenance of Tsarism. The suppression of Polish nationalism is of course the very foundation of that understanding.
At eight o'clock this evening I left for Moscow with Sir George and Lady Georgina Buchanan.
3. On June 29, 1914, Rasputin, who had just arrived at Pokrovskoïe, his native village, was stabbed in the stomach by a Petersburg prostitute, Khinia Gusseva, whose lover he had been. For a fortnight he hung between life and death. His recovery seemed likely to be a long business. The Tsaritsa telegraphed to him every day. Khinia Gusseva was sent to a lunatic asylum. As she struck Rasputin she cried out: "I've killed the Antichrist!" Then she tried to kill herself. A rather pretty girl of twenty-six, she was the most characteristic type of Russian prostitute, at once hysterical, a drunkard and a mystic. It is easy to imagine her in one of Tolstoy's or Dostoïevsky's novels.
4. Literally "the old man." Although Rasputin is barely forty-three his disciples thus refer to him, as a sign of respect, much as monks are described. The exact meaning of staretz is thus: "Father" or "the Venerable." But even in this sense the style is grammatically improper as Rasputin is merely a moujik and not in holy orders.