Volume I - CHAPTER IX - FEBRUARY 14-MARCH 31, 1915
Sunday, February 14, 1915.
From the Tilsit region on the Lower Niemen to Plotzk on the Vistula the Russian army is on the retreat on a front of 450 kilometres. It has lost its entrenchments on the Angerapp and all the defiles between the Masurian Lakes which are so favourable for defence: it is retiring hastily on Kovno, Grodno, Osowiec, and the Narev.
This series of reverses gives Rasputin his chance of gratifying his implacable hatred of the Grand Duke Nicholas.
In his early days in St. Petersburg in 1906 the staretz had no warmer patrons than the Grand Dukes Nicholas and Peter Nicolaevitch and their Montenegrin wives, the Grand Duchesses Anastasia and Militza. But one fine day the Grand Duke Nicholas realized his mistake, and as a man of courage did his best to repair it. He begged and prayed the Emperor to send the infamous moujik away; he returned to the charge several times, but nothing came of it. Rasputin has been hatching his revenge ever since.
So I am not surprised to hear that he is always railing against the Generalissimo to the sovereigns. With his usual flair he has at once discovered the arguments to which they are most susceptible. On the one hand he is accusing the Grand Duke of resorting to all sorts of hypocritical methods of winning popularity with the soldiery and creating a political following in the army. On the other, he is always saying: "Nikolatcha can never succeed in any of his operations because God will never bless them. How could God possibly bless the actions of a man who has betrayed me, the Bojy tchelloviek, the 'Man of God'!"
Monday, February 15, 1915.
I have been discussing Poland with Count R - -, who is a raving Nationalist.
"You must admit," I said, "that the Poles have some ground for not loving Russia."
"That's true enough; we've sometimes been pretty hard on Poland. But Poland has fairly paid us back."
"In what way?"
"By giving us the Jews."
It is perfectly true that there was no Jewish question in Russia before the partitions of Poland.
Before that epoch the only policy pursued by Tsarism towards the Jews was to deport or kill them off. These summary methods had to be dropped when the fate of the great Israelite communities in the annexed territories had to be determined. They were assigned a zone of residence on the western borders of the Empire and subjected to certain police regulations which were not unduly vexatious.
But during the preparations for the second partition Catherine II suddenly introduced the regime of penalties and servitude from which they are not yet freed. By a ukase dated December 23, 1791, she restricted their residential zone; she forbade them to take part in agriculture; she confined them to the towns and their ghettoes, and she enunciated the abominable doctrine - which prevails even to-day - that anything which is not expressly permitted is forbidden to a Jew.
This exhibition of despotism and iniquity might seem surprising in the philosopher-Empress who was the friend of Voltaire, d'Alembert, and Diderot, and the sovereign who claimed to draw her political inspiration from the Esprit des Lois. But there was a potent, though indirect, grievance which was responsible for her anger with the Jews; she loathed the Revolution, expended all her hatred and invective on it, and regarded it as a terrible menace to all thrones and a criminal and diabolical affair. On September 27, 1791, the Constituent Assembly had emancipated the Jews and granted them equal civil rights. Catherine II replied with her ukase of December 23, the evil effect of which was intensified by subsequent measures.
Thus by an ironical repercussion of fate the generous initiative of the French Revolution opened an era of persecutions at the other end of Europe, persecutions which were destined to be as prolonged and grievous as any Israel has known through the ages.
Tuesday, February 16, 1915.
The 9th Army is having great difficulty in extricating itself from the forest region which stretches cast of Augustovo and Suvalki. At Kolno, on the Lomza road further south, one of its columns has been surrounded and destroyed. The communiqués of the Stavka(1) are confined to an announcement that under the pressure of large forces the Russian troops are retiring to the fortified line of the Niemen. But the public understands... .
This afternoon I passed the Church of the Resurrection as I was driving through the industrial Kolomna quarter. A funeral stopped there at the same moment. The procession was a long one composed solely of workmen and moujiks.
I had my car stopped at the corner of the Torgovaia, and under the scandalized eyes of my footman I mingled with the humble group following the bier.
Many and many a time have I watched such a crowd! Nowhere are Russian faces so expressive as in church. The mysterious darkness of the nave, the glittering candles, the play of light on ikons and reliquaries, the smell. of incense, the moving beauty of the singing, the imposing display of priestly robes, the magnificence of the whole liturgical apparatus, and the very length of the services have a sort of enchantment which gives life to dead souls and brings them before our eyes.
In the faces before me two expressions could soon be distinguished - faith and resignation; a simple, contemplative and sentimental faith, a dumb, passive and sorrowful resignation.
Fatalism and piety are the very essence of all Russian souls. To the great majority of them God is only the theological synonym for fate.
Thursday, February 18, 1915.
The 10th Army has not yet succeeded in completely escaping the German clutches. With a strength of four corps, perhaps twelve divisions, it is said to have already left 50,000 prisoners and 60 guns in the enemy's hands.
I have been dining privately at Tsarskoe Selo with the Grand Duke Paul.
The Grand Duke questioned me anxiously about the operations which have just resulted in the loss to Russia of the invaluable pledge of East Prussia. Every detail I gave him drew a deep sigh from his lips:
"What does it all mean, in God's name?"
Then, recovering himself with a fine air of determination, he continued:
"It doesn't matter! We shall go through with it. If we have to retreat further we shall retreat, but I'll promise you we shall continue the war to victory. As a matter of fact, I'm only repeating to you what the Emperor and Empress said to me the day before yesterday. They're fortitude itself, both of them. Not a word of complaint or discouragement. They simply help each other to bear up. Not a soul about them, not a soul, I tell you, ever dares mention peace now!"
Friday, February 19, 1915
The three corps of the 10th Army which were in danger of being surrounded in Augustovo Forest have at last succeeded in retiring on the line of the Bobr, where reinforcements have reached them. The communiqué of the Stavka simply reads: Between the Niemen and the Fistula our troops are gradually leaving the scene of the recent actions.
Saturday, February 20, 1915.
Yesterday the Anglo-French fleet bombarded the forts which command the entrance to the Dardanelles. It is the prelude to a landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula.
As I had to call on Sazonov this afternoon, I brought him away in my car.
As we were crossing the Champ-de-Mars we noticed several companies of infantry who were drilling. The men had difficulty in marching in the snow. The yellow fog which hung over the great parade ground gave the whole scene a most gloomy and funereal aspect. Sazonov remarked with a sigh:
"Look! There's a sad sight for you! I suppose there's about a thousand men there, and they're not conscripts being put through their paces but trained men who are no doubt leaving for the front in a few days. And there's not a rifle among them! Isn't it dreadful! For Heaven's sake, Ambassador, stir up your Government to come to the rescue. If they don't, where shall we be?"
I promised him to press them again, and with the greatest vigour, to accelerate the despatch of the rifles expected from France, for the sight of these poor moujiks on their way to the slaughterhouse tore my heart.
As we were continuing our drive in silence a scene from Shakespeare came to my mind - a scene in which the great dramatist seems to have concentrated all the ironic pity with which the spectacle of human follies filled him. It is at the beginning of Henry II. The merry Falstaff is presenting to Prince Henry of Lancaster a troop he has just recruited, a gang which is simply a collection of ragged beggars without arms. "I never did see such pitiful rascals!" cries the Prince. "Tut, tut!" cries Falstaff; "food for powder, food for powder; they'll fill a pit as well as better. Tush, man! mortal men, mortal men!"
Sunday, February 21, 1915.
The communiqué of the Stavka announces the evacuation of East Prussia, and explains it without concealing too much. What impresses the public most is the insistence of the Russian General Staff on the advantage the enemy derives from his railway system. So the pessimists are going about saying: "That's why we shall never beat the Germans!"
At the beginning of this month the Duc de Guise (son of the late Duc de Chartres) arrived incognito at Sophia. He had fallen in with Delcassé's suggestion that he should use his influence with the Tsar Ferdinand to persuade him to throw in his lot with us.
Ferdinand showed no anxiety to receive his nephew. On various excuses he did not receive him until he had made him wait six days. When at length he was taken to the palace the Duc de Guise strongly insisted on the political reasons for Bulgaria's joining our coalition; with even greater fervour he employed the "family arguments" which impose on the grandson of King Louis Philippe the duty of helping France. The Tsar Ferdinand heard him out with his most attentive and amiable expression, but told him point blank that he meant to retain a completely free hand. And then, quite suddenly and with that evil smile I have so often seen on his face, he continued: "Now that you've done what you were sent to do, be my nephew once more." And after that he talked commonplaces all the time.
The Duc de Guise was received at the palace three times in the next few days, but he never succeeded in bringing back the conversation into political channels. On February 13 he left for Salonica.
The failure of his mission is significant.
Tuesday, February 23, 1915.
The Germans continue to make progress between the Niemen and the Vistula.
With a reference to the weariness of his troops and the exhaustion of his ammunition supply, the Grand Duke Nicholas had me discreetly informed a few days ago that he would be glad to see the French Army take the offensive with a view to preventing the transfer of German forces to the eastern front.
In acquainting the French Government with his desire I took care to remind them that the Grand Duke Nicholas had not hesitated to sacrifice Samsonov's army on August 29 last in answer to our appeal for help. The reply has been exactly what I expected: General Joffre has just ordered a vigorous attack in Champagne.
Wednesday, February 24, 1915.
This afternoon as I was calling on Madame O - -, who takes a very active part in Red Cross work, the door of the room suddenly flew open. A tall man, dressed in top boots and the long black caftan which well-to-do moujiks wear on holidays, strode towards Madame O - - and gave her a resounding kiss on the hand. It was Rasputin.
With a swift glance at me he enquired:
"Who is it?"
Madame O - - introduced me. He continued:
"Oh, yes; the French Ambassador! I'm pleased to meet him. He's the very man I want to see."
He began to rattle along, so much so that Madame O - -, who acted as interpreter, had not even time to translate.
Thus I had a chance of taking stock of him. Dark, long, and ill-kempt hair; stiff black beard; high forehead; broad, acquiline nose. But the whole expression of the face was concentrated in the eyes - light-blue eyes with a curious sparkle, depth, and fascination. His gaze was at once penetrating and caressing, naive and cunning, direct and yet remote. When he was excited it seemed as if his pupils became magnetic.
In short, jerky phrases and with a wealth of gesticulation, he gave me a pathetic picture of the sufferings inflicted on the Russian people by the war:
"There are too many dead and wounded, too many widows and orphans, nothing but ruin and tears! Think of all the poor fellows who'll never come back, and remember that each of them has left behind him five, six, ten persons who can only weep! I know of villages where everybody's in mourning... . And what about those who do come back! What are they like! Legless, armless, blind! ... It's terrible! For more than twenty years we shall harvest nothing but sorrow on Russian soil!"
"Yes, indeed, it's terrible enough," I said; "but it would be far worse if all these sacrifices were to be in vain. A peace that was no peace, a peace which was the result of war-weariness would be not merely a crime against our dead: it would bring with it internal crises from which our countries might never recover."
"You're right. We must fight on to victory."
"I'm glad to hear you say so, as I know several people in high places who are relying on you to persuade the Emperor not to continue the war."
He gave me a suspicious glance and scratched his beard. Then he shot out:
"There are fools everywhere."
"Yes; but the bad thing is that these fools are believed in by Berlin. The Emperor William is convinced that your friends and you yourself are using all your influence for peace."
"The Emperor William ... Why, don't you know he's inspired by the Devil? All he says and does is what the Devil tells him to. I know what I'm saying; it is the Devil alone who helps him. But one fine day the Devil will suddenly leave him, because God has so decreed. And William will fall flat like an old shirt thrown on a dunghill."
"Then our victory is a certainty. It's obvious that the Devil cannot win."
"Yes, we shall be the victors. But I don't know when. ... God chooses the hour that seems good to Him for His miracles. We are not at the end of our trials; much more blood and many more tears must flow."
He returned to his first topic, the necessity of alleviating the sufferings of the masses:
"It will cost enormous sums, millions and millions of roubles. But there must be no consideration of expense... . When the people suffer too much they get bad, you see ... They may become dangerous; they may even sometimes go so far as to talk of a republic... . You must tell the Emperor all this."
"You can't expect me to talk evil of a republic to the Emperor!"
"Of course not, but you can tell him that you can't pay too much for the happiness of the people, and that France will give him all the money he needs. France is so rich!"
"France is rich because she works hard and saves hard. . . Quite recently she advanced large sums to Russia."
" Advanced large sums? What sums? I'm sure it was a case of more money for the tchinovniks. The peasants wouldn't get a kopeck of it! Take my word for it! No, speak to the Emperor as I told you."
"Speak to him yourself! You see him far more often than I."
He did not like my obstinacy. Raising his head and pressing his lips, he replied, in a tone that was all but insolent:
"That's not my business at all. I'm not the Emperor's Finance Minister: I'm the Minister of his soul!"
"All right, then! I'll speak to the Emperor as you suggest the next time I see him."
"Thank you! Thank you! just one word more. Is Russia going to have Constantinople?"
"Yes, if we win."
"Is it certain?"
"I firmly believe so."
"Then the Russian people won't regret having suffered so much and will be willing to suffer more."
Thereupon he embraced Madame O - -, clasped me in his arms, and strode out, banging the door behind him.
Saturday, February 27, 1915.
The Anglo-French fleet is continuing its attack on the Dardanelles with the greatest vigour: all the outer forts are already silenced. The result is great public excitement in Russia, which expects to see the Allied ships off the Golden Horn any day now.
The Byzantine mirage mesmerizes public opinion more and more, and, indeed, to such a pitch as to leave it almost indifferent to the loss of East Prussia - as if the defeat of Germany were not a condition precedent to the fulfilment of the Byzantine dream!
Sunday, February 28, 1915.
The German advance in Poland and Lithuania has been stayed, and near Prasnyez, eighty kilometres north of Warsaw, they have even suffered a serious reverse.
Monday, March 1, 1915.
This morning Sazonov called the attention of Buchanan and myself to the excitement which the Constantinople question is rousing in all ranks of Russian society:
"A few weeks ago," he said, " I could still think that the opening of the Straits did not necessarily involve the definite occupation of Constantinople. To-day I have to admit that the whole country demands that radical solution... . Hitherto Sir Edward Grey has confined himself to informing us that the question of the Straits must be settled in conformity with Russia's wishes. It is true that King George has gone further and said to our Ambassador, Benckendorff: Constantinople must be yours.
But the hour for plain speaking has come. The Russian people are now entitled to know that they can count on their Allies in the realization of their national task. England and France should say openly that they agree to the annexation of Constantinople by Russia when the day for peace arrives.
General Pau, who commanded the army in Alsace at the beginning of the war and captured Mulhausen, has reached Petrograd via Salonica, Sofia, and Bucharest; his mission is to convey French decorations to the Russian army. The impressions of France he brings are excellent.
I gave a dinner in his honour this evening: he communicated the confidence which his every word and look inspire to all present.
Wednesday, March 3, 1915.
I presented General Pau to the Emperor to-day: General de Laguiche was with us.
At ten minutes to one Count Benckendorff, Grand Marshal of the Court, took us to His Majesty in one of the small drawing-rooms of Tsarskoe Selo. The Emperor was his natural and kindly self, as usual, but his questions to General Pau about our army, supplies, and operations were as obvious and casual as ever. As a matter of fact, the four young Grand Duchesses and the Tsarevitch came in with the Mistress of the Robes, Madame Narishkin. After the introductions we went straight in to luncheon.
In accordance with old Russian tradition there is no dining-room in the Alexander Palace. Meals are served sometimes in one room, sometimes in another, according to circumstances. To-day the table - a round, old-fashioned family table-was laid in the library, where the sun, sparkling reflections of the snow and bright views down the garden created a light-hearted atmosphere.
I was on the Empress's right and General Pau on her left. Madame Narishkin was on the Emperor's right and General de Laguiche on his left. On my right I had the eldest of the Grand Duchesses, Olga Nicolaievna, who is nineteen and a half. Her three sisters, the Tsarevitch and Count Benckendorff were the other members of the party.
The conversation was quite free and natural, but nevertheless dragged a little.
The Empress looked very well: she was obviously making a special effort to be gracious and smiling. She returned several times to the same subject Rasputin discussed so warmly with me - the endless chain of suffering the war means to the poor, and the political and moral duty of helping them.
The Tsarevitch found the meal long, and every now and then started playing pranks, to the despair of his sisters, who frowned at him. The Emperor and Empress smiled and pretended not to see.
General Pau made an excellent impression with his natural dignity, his fine face - the face of an honest soldier - and his reputation for military talent, honour, and religious fervour.
The moment we rose from the table the Emperor drew me to the end of the room and said in a serious tone:
"You may remember the talk I had with you last November. My views have not changed since then, but there is one point on which events compel me to be more precise - I mean Constantinople. The question of the Straits is preoccupying public opinion in Russia to the highest degree. It is a current which flows more strongly every day. I could not admit my right to impose on my people the terrible sacrifices of this war if I did not reward them with the realization of their time-honoured ambition. My mind is therefore made up, Ambassador. I shall adopt the radical solution of the problem of Constantinople and the Straits. The solution I outlined to you in December is the only possible and practical one. The city of Constantinople and southern Thrace must be incorporated in my Empire. Of course, I should be prepared to allow the city to be administered on special principles designed to safeguard foreign interests. You know that England has already expressed her approval. King George told my Ambassador quite recently: Constantinople must be yours. That pronouncement is, a guarantee of England's goodwill, but if any misunderstanding on questions of detail arise I shall count on the help of your Government in settling it."
"May I tell my Government, Sire, that Your Majesty's views on the problems which interest France directly have not changed either?"
"Certainly! I want France to emerge from this war as great and strong as possible. I agree beforehand to everything your Government wishes. Take the left bank of the Rhine; take Coblentz; go even further if you think it wise."
Then he took me back to the Empress who was talking to General Pau and General de Laguiche. Five minutes later the sovereigns withdrew.
Monday, March 8, 1915.
In accordance with instructions in a telegram from Delcassé this evening I have told Sazonov that he may rely on the goodwill of the French Government as regards the questions of Constantinople and the Straits being solved in the manner desired by Russia.
Sazonov thanked me most warmly:
"Your Government," he said, "has just rendered the Alliance an invaluable service ... perhaps you yourself do not know how valuable."
Tuesday, March 9, 1915.
The Emperor is extremely jealous of his authority. As is so often the case with weak characters, his jealousy is of the silent and suspicious, obstinate and resentful variety. Count Kokovtsov has given me a curious illustration of it:
"You may remember," he said, "that after the assassination of Stolypin at Kiev, in September, 1911, the Emperor appointed me President of the Council. The moment my appointment was decided upon I left His Majesty, who was just going to the Crimea, and returned straight to Petersburg. I took up my duties as soon as possible, and after three weeks or so I went to make my report to the Emperor, who was still at Yalta. As you may imagine, I had some pretty grave matters to put before him. He received me most kindly: 'I'm very pleased with you, Vladimir Nicolaievitch,' he said with a friendly smile. 'I know you've gathered good men round you and are working in the right spirit. I feel that you won't treat me as your predecessor, Peter Arkadievitch, did.' Speaking personally, Stolypin was not a friend of mine: there was plenty of mutual respect, but little sympathy between us. But I couldn't help answering: 'Peter Arkadievitch died for Your Majesty, Sire!' 'He died in my service, true. But he was always so anxious to keep me in the background. Do you suppose I liked always reading in the papers that the President of the Council has done this ... the President of the Council has done that? Don't I count? Am I nobody? '"
Friday, March 12, 1915.
As the price of its consent to Russia's designs on Constantinople and the Straits the British Government has asked the Imperial Government to agree that the neutral zone in Persia (i.e., all the central part of Iran, including the Ispahan region) shall be incorporated in the English zone.
Sazonov immediately replied to Buchanan:
Thus the Persian question, which has been a bone of contention between England and Russia for two centuries, has been settled in one minute!
Saturday, March 13, 1915.
Count Witte died more or less suddenly from a cerebral tumour this morning; he was nearly sixty-seven.
When telegraphing the news to Delcassé I added With him a regular hotbed of intrigue has gone.
Sunday, March 14, 1915.
It is now a week since I began to receive hints of a case of treachery on which the military authorities have preserved strict silence; I know now how serious it was.
A senior gendarmerie officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Miassoyedov, who was formerly employed in the counterespionage police and was attached to the Intelligence Service of the 10th Army at the beginning of the war, has been arrested at Vilna on a charge of having intelligence with Germany.
The first information was given by a Russian officer, a prisoner of war whom the German General staff offered to set at liberty if he would agree to "work" in Germany's interest on his return to his own country. The officer pretended to agree and his pretence was so convincing that he was given the name of the person to whom he was to apply for instructions as to the direction of his enquiries and the transmission of his correspondence. When he reached Petrograd he immediately denounced Lieutenant-Colonel Miassoyedov.
General Bielaiev, the Chief of the General Staff, was in no way surprised at receiving this information.
About 1908 Miassoyedov, who was then in command of the gendarmerie at the frontier station of Wirballen, had been implicated in an ugly case of smuggling. He had had to be placed on the retired list. He did not stay there long. His wife - a Jewish adventuress whom he had met at Carlsbad - had become a very close friend of Madame Sukhomlinov. The Minister of War yielded to his wife's entreaties and took the unfaithful officer on his personal staff.
Miassoyedov took advantage of his new post to extend his dealings with Germany and Austria. But notwithstanding all his cunning and the facilities given him by his official functions, he became the subject of very scandalous rumours and the most serious insinuations.
In 1911 Gutchkov, the leader of the Octobrist Party in the Duma, one day accused him publicly of being in the pay of the German General Staff. General Sukhomlinov covered his subordinate, and Miassoyedov then demanded, and obtained, satisfaction from Gutchkov. The duel was with pistols, and took place on one of the islands in the Neva. The conditions were very stringent, the distance between the duellists being fifteen paces only. Gutchkov a man of great courage and a splendid shot, placidly let his opponent fire first. When he heard the bullet whistle past his ear he scornfully threw his weapon down and withdrew without so much as a look at the astonished Miassoyedov. When Gutchkov's seconds asked him why he had spared the traitor's life he replied:
"Because I don't want to save him from his natural death - hanging!"
Thereafter Miassoyedov continued his secret intrigues in complete secret. Every day he has unlimited access to the Minister of War and Madame Sukhomlinov, to whom he acted as a sort of retriever and commission broker.
In August, 1914, he was put in charge of the intelligence service of the 10th Army.
After securing certain subordinate officials and a flying officer as his accomplices he sent the German General Staff reports on the movements of the Russian army, its condition as regards supplies, the state of public opinion, &c. The flying officer transmitted these reports when flying over the German lines, at agreed times. There can be no doubt that these detailed and continuous reports have had a good deal to do with the series of reverses which. have just compelled the Russians to evacuate East Prussia.
Before the Warsaw Court Martial Miassoyedov protested his innocence, but the evidence against him seems to have been overwhelming. He was condemned to death and hanged on March 10.
The trial of his accomplices is not yet over.
Monday, March 15, 1915.
The French Government has been considering the terms of peace to be imposed on Turkey by the Allies, and has instructed me to inform the Russian Government of the compensation France expects to receive in Syria.
The Emperor is now at G.H.Q., but he has asked me to go there to discuss the matter with him. Sazonov is invited also.
Tuesday, March 16, 1915.
I left Petrograd yesterday evening in an imperial saloon attached to the Warsaw express, and this morning woke up in Vilna from which place a special train conveyed me to Baranovici. Until half-past twelve we were traversing vast and almost deserted plains, stretching their rolling snowfields like an ermine carpet as far as the eye could reach.
Baranovici is a miserable little country town on the railway which connects Warsaw and Moscow via Brest-Litovsk, Minsk and Smolensk.
General Headquarters is established several versts from the town in a clearing in a forest of pines and birches. The various Staff departments are housed in a dozen trains standing fan-wise among the trees. Here and there between them a number of military barracks and a few Cossack and gendarmerie posts can be seen.
I was taken straight to the imperial train - an endless line of huge saloons with the imperial arms in gold - under the sunlit foliage.
The Emperor received me immediately in his drawing-room car:
"I'm glad to see you here," he said, "at the General Headquarters of my armies. It will be another memory we shall have in common, my dear Ambassador."
"I already owe Your Majesty the unforgettable memory of Moscow. I cannot be in your presence here - at the heart of your armies - and remain unmoved."
"Let's have luncheon first. We can talk after. You must be very hungry!"
We passed into the next car, comprising a smoke-room and a long dining-room. Luncheon had been laid for twenty guests. The Grand Duke Nicholas Nicolaievitch sat on the Emperor's right, the Grand Duke Peter Nicolaievitch on his left. The place opposite His Majesty was occupied, as etiquette decrees, by Prince Dolgorukov, Marshal of the Court. I was on his right and had General Janushkevitch, Chief of Staff to the Commander-in-Chief, on my right. The table was narrow enough for conversation to be general.
We talked freely, and there was no lack of animation, no feeling of restraint. The Emperor was in high spirits and asked me about my journey, the success the French have just gained in the Argonne, the operations of the Allied squadrons off the Dardanelles and so forth. Then, with a sudden gleam of ironic satisfaction in his eyes, he said:
"And we haven't said a word about poor Count Witte! I hope his death hasn't distressed you too much, Ambassador!"
"No, indeed, Sire! When I reported his death to my Government my funeral oration over him was confined to the words: With him a great hotbed of intrigue has gone!"
"But that's exactly what I think! Listen, gentlemen. . ."
He repeated my phrase twice. Then with a grave and solemn air he remarked:
"Count Witte's death has been a great relief to me. I also regard it as a sign from God."
His words revealed his fear and distrust of Witte.
As soon as luncheon was over the Emperor took me into his study. It is a rectangular compartment, occupying the full width of the saloon and filled with plain furniture and large leather chairs.
On a table there was a great pile of huge envelopes.
"Look at that," said the Emperor. "It's my daily budget. I've got to get through all that to-day."
I know from Sazonov that he never misses this daily task, and is scrupulously careful to do the work - and it is heavy work - his position imposes.
He made me sit by him, and with a kind smile gave me his whole attention:
"Now, I'm ready."
I described in detail the full programme of civilizing work France intends to undertake in Syria, Cilicia, and Palestine.
He made me carefully point out on the map the regions which would thus come under French influence and declared:
"I agree to all you ask."
Our discussion on political topics was over. The Emperor then rose and took me to the other end of his study, where maps of Poland and Galicia were spread out on a long table. He showed me the general distribution of his armies, and said:
"In the Narev and Niemen regions the danger is averted, but I attach even greater importance to the operations which have begun in the Carpathians. If our successes continue we shall soon be masters of the main passes, which will enable us to debouch into the Hungarian plains. When that stage is reached our operations will proceed more rapidly. By advancing along the southern slopes of the Carpathians we shall reach the defiles of the Oder and the Neisse. From there we shall penetrate into Silesia."
With these cheering words the Emperor released me.
"I know you're going back to-night, but we must meet again at tea. If you've nothing better to do I'll take you to see some cinematograph films of our operations in Armenia. They're very interesting."
It was half-past two when I left the Emperor.
After a short talk with Sazonov I called on the Generalissimo, whose train was drawn up a few metres away.
The Grand Duke received me in a roomy and comfortable apartment spread with bearskins and eastern rugs. In his customary frank and decided manner, he said:
"I've some serious matters I want to talk to you about. It's not the Grand Duke Nicholas talking to Monsieur Paléologue: it's the Commander-in-Chief of the Russian armies speaking officially to the French Ambassador. In that capacity it's my duty to tell you that the immediate co-operation of Italy and Rumania is a matter of the greatest urgency. But please don't interpret these words as a cry of distress. I still think that with God's help the victory will be ours. At the same time, without the immediate co-operation of France and Italy the war will be prolonged for many months more, and we shall run terrible risks."
I replied that the French Government had never ceased to intensify its efforts to gain allies:
"Japan, Greece, Bulgaria, Rumania, Italy - Monsieur Delcassé has knocked at all their doors. At this very moment he is racking his brains as to how to get the Rumanian and Italian Governments into line. But I cannot hide from you that Russia's claim to Constantinople and the Straits may perhaps make it impossible for these two Governments to join our alliance."
"Oh, that's the business of diplomacy... . It's outside my line altogether... . Now let's talk as private individuals."
He offered me a cigarette, made me sit beside him on a settee, and asked me questions innumerable about France. Twice he said to me:
"I can't find words to express my admiration for France!"
The course of conversation brought us to the question of operations. I told the Grand Duke what the Emperor had just told me about the plan of a general offensive in the direction of Silesia by the defiles of the Oder and the Neisse:
"I confess I find it somewhat difficult to reconcile this plan with the disturbing prospects your statements open up."
The Grand Duke's face suddenly clouded over:
"I never discuss an opinion of His Majesty except when he does me the honour to ask my advice."
Someone came in to say that the Emperor was waiting tea for us.
The Grand Duke took me with him. On our way he showed me his saloon, which is fitted up most ingeniously and comfortably. His bedroom gets its light from four windows on one side of the carriage and is very simply furnished, but the walls are completely covered with ikons - there must be at least two hundred of them!
After tea the Emperor took me to a cinematograph improvised in a hut. We had a long series of picturesque scenes from the recent operations of the Russian. army in the region of Tchorokh and Aghri Dagh. As I gazed on the gigantic walls of Eastern Armenia, that chaos of huge mountains with their knife-edged crests slashed by ravines, I could realize all the valour the Russian soldiers must have displayed in advancing over such country in thirty degrees of frost and perpetual snowstorms. When the show was over the Emperor took me back to his saloon, where we parted.
At half-past seven I left for Petrograd with Sazonov.
Friday, March 19, 1915.
The Allied squadrons met with a reverse yesterday during a general attack on the forts which command the entrance to the Dardanelles. The French cruiser Bouvet struck a floating mine; the battleship Gaulois was put out of action, and two English battleships, Irresistible and Ocean, were sunk.
Saturday, March 20, 1915.
The news of Miassoyedov's treachery is beginning to leak out, in spite of the silence of the press. As usual, imagination joins in and searches for accomplices even amongst the greatest of the great at court. There is much excitement.
I have been shown in confidence a letter which the "Labour-Socialist" deputy, Kerensky, recently wrote to President Rodzianko asking him to secure an immediate session of the Duma with a view to questions being put about the Miassoyedov affair:
"The centre of all this treachery," he wrote, "is the Ministry of the Interior... . Russian society knows well enough that those in charge of that department are bent solely on the restoration, at the earliest possible moment, of those old and close relations with the Prussian monarchy which were an indispensable support to our reactionary forces at home. The Duma must protect the country against these stabs in the back. In the name of my constituents I beg you, Mr. President, to insist upon an immediate meeting of the Duma so that it may perform its duty of bringing the Executive to book at so grave a moment."
Of course, Rodzianko was unable to do anything.
Sunday, March 21, 1915.
Feeling somewhat perturbed in mind as the result of my recent conversation with the Grand Duke Nicholas I have been to see General Bielaiev, Chief of the General Staff, and questioned him about the supply of ammunition for the Russian artillery. This is the gist of his reply:
(1) The daily output of field-gun ammunition is at most 20,000 rounds at the moment;
(2) If the orders placed abroad are executed by contract time, by the end of May the Russian artillery will have 65,000 rounds a day (of which 26,000 are expected from England and America). This figure will rise to 85,000 by the end of September.
(3) If the methods applied by the French munitions industry are adopted our output could be increased by 10,000 after July. But if that result is to be obtained the whole organization of Russian industry must be fundamentally changed.
I am making urgent representations to Paris for the despatch of a body of technical instructors.
Monday, March 22, 1915.
After an investment of four and a half months the fortress of Przemysl capitulated this morning.
From the strategical point of view the incident is of very slight importance, but morally it steadies Russian public opinion a little at an opportune moment.
Tuesday, March 23, 1915.
This evening I dined with Countess Marie Shuvalov, née Komarov, widow of Count Paul Andreievitch, who was Ambassador in Berlin and Governor-General of Poland. In addition to myself she had invited the. Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna, Maklakov, the Minister of the Interior, Prince Radziwill Tcharykov, formerly Ambassador in Constantinople, and others.
After dinner I had a long talk with Maklakov, who asked me about my recent audience of the Emperor. I enjoyed telling him of all the proofs the Emperor had given me of his determination to continue the war. Maklakov kept on saying:
"I'm very glad to hear you say so! Of course, we must go through with the war to the bitter end, yes, to the bitter end! I'm quite confident now: God will give us the victory!"
But his face was deadly pale; his features were haggard, and he looked particularly downcast. For a long time he covered Lieutenant-Colonel Miassoyedov, and now he feels that the Emperor is angry with him and that the hour of his downfall is at hand.
The Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna was no less inquisitive about the impressions I had brought away with me from Baranovici. When I had told her what I thought, she said:
"I'm always easy in my mind when the Emperor is away from the Empress. It is she who makes him go wrong."
Then she added:
"I want to ask you an indiscreet question."
"With pleasure, Madame."
"Is it true that Miassoyedov's treachery was discovered by the French police and that the reason why the Emperor summoned you to Baranovici was to talk to you about it? And is it also true that Count Witte committed suicide when he found out that you had proof of his dealings with Germany in your possession?"
"I heard of. the Miassoyedov affair only three or four days before his conviction and from a Russian officer. And as for Count Witte, I know for certain that he died quite suddenly of a cerebral tumour."
"I believe you. But the public will prefer my romance to your reality."
Wednesday, March 24, 1915.
Interesting as the Russian novel is as an expression of the national mind and soul, illuminating as is the work of a Turgueniev, Tolstoy, Dostoievsky, Tchekov, Korolenko, or Gorky from that point of view, Russian music carries us even further into the depths of the national conscience and emotions. Renan has said of Turgueniev: "No man has ever been such an incarnation of a whole race. A world lived in him and spoke by his lips: generations of ancestors, lost in the sleep of centuries, came to life and speech through him."
Is that not even truer of Borodin, Moussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, Glazounov, Balakirev, or Liadov? Songs, operas, ballets, symphonies, orchestral and piano pieces, each work bears the imprint of the land and the race. Here one finds in the most seductive, fascinating, and convincing forms the whole character and temperament of the Russians - their perpetual unrest, hasty and irresistible impulses, vague and sorrowful, impotent and conflicting aspirations; their tendency to melancholy, obsession by mystery and death, love of self-revelation and reverie, susceptibility to emotional extravagances; their bondage to their own passions - whether the most tender and refined or the most frenzied: their capacity for suffering and resignation on the one hand, fury and savagery on the other; their sensitiveness to the appeal of Nature and her still small voices and soothing or terrifying magic; their vague realization of the atmosphere of fatality, gloom, tragedy, and enormity which shrouds the soil, the soul, and the history of Russia.
This afternoon I was deeply impressed by all this when I called on Madame S - - who for two hours sang me excerpts from Moussorgsky's works, Eremushka's Cradle Song, the Elegy, Hopak, the Intermezzo, the Dances of Death , and so on - works throbbing with realism and emotional vitality. The power of musical evocation, the full force of suggestion by rhythm and melody seem to reach their highest point in these songs.
Yet Moussorgsky has gone even further as an interpreter of the national conscience. His two lyrical dramas, Boris Godounov and Khovantchina, with their wondrous beauty, are first-hand authorities for a true understanding of the Russian soul.
A few days ago I was present at a performance of Khovantchina. The action takes place at the end of the seventeenth century and summarizes the remorseless struggle which Peter the Great maintained throughout his reign against the old Muscovite spirit, the barbarous, gloomy, and fanatical Russia of the boyars and monks, Raskolniks and Streltsy.
All the passions of that dark era appear successively on the canvas with the most lifelike relief. As in Boris Godounov, the real hero, the protagonist in the drama, is the people. The national life is passing through one of its great crises, and from that point of view the last act has a grandeur which is nothing less than sublime.
Pursued by the Tsar's soldiery the Raskolniks, or "Old Believers," have taken refuge in an isba buried in the heart of the woods. Their leader, the aged Dositheus, exhorts them to die rather than abjure their faith: he extols the virtue of death by fire, the "Red Death." After a number of enthusiastic or heartrending episodes all the Raskolniks - men, women, girls, and children - agree to commit suicide: all of them long for martyrdom. They make a funereal pyre in a barn. The aged Dositheus recites the gospel: hymns of triumph reply. Suddenly the pile of faggots blazes up: the doors of the isba are closed. Clouds of smoke seem to waft the dying anthems to the skies. The soldiers of the Tsar rush in just as the roof collapses on a heap of corpses.
For more than a century suicide by burning, the "Red Death," was the fashion in the sect of the Raskol, and cost thousands and thousands of victims. The first apostle of the terrible doctrine was a simple moujik, Basil Volosaty, who was born about 1630 at Sokolsk, near Vladimir. He went about saying: "The Antichrist reigns on the earth and the priests of the Church shamefully submit to his sway. To receive any sacrament from them, whether baptism, communion, marriage, or extreme unction, is to receive the mark of Antichrist. The sins of him who bears that mark will never be forgiven. Then how shall he win salvation? By suicide. There is no other way. And if we think about it, how can we hesitate? By throwing ourselves into the flames we immediately escape the power of the Antichrist. We get rid of all that is gross in us: we die with an unsullied faith and a purified soul. In exchange for a few moments of suffering we gain eternal bliss: we are immediately received in the company of saints... ."
The Volosatovchtchina spread with tremendous rapidity all over Russia; it made its greatest headway among the peasants and monks. Its principal centres were Vladimir, Kostroma, Suzdal, YaroslavI, Novgorod, Onega, Viatka, Perm, and Western Siberia. Every year there were thousands of victims. At Potchekonie, in 1685, a single auto-da-fé accounted for seven hundred people. It needed all the ferocious energy of Peter the Great to check this madness.
But the same extraordinary phenomena have reappeared occasionally since. In the province of Olonetz, in 1860, there was a sudden epidemic of suicide by burning. The imperial police had to act with ruthless severity to suppress it.
Even in our own times the annals of the Russian sects have had to record several cases of voluntary and wholesale auto-da-fé. In 1897 the Raskolnik village of Tarnov on the Dniester was terrorized by the preaching of a demented old woman, Vitalia, who announced the coming of the Antichrist; she saw him approaching in the curious form of the general census which the administrative authorities were then carrying out. When the census officials appeared in Tarnov they found all the streets deserted and all the doors barricaded. Through a half-opened window a hand was thrust in which was the following protest:
We are true Christians. The work on which you have come here would sever us from Christ who is our heavenly Fatherland, our only Fatherland. So we will not obey your orders; we will not give you our names. We would rather die for Christ.
The officials withdrew, saying they would shortly return with the police.
All the moujiks of the village immediately assembled in Vitalia's house and took counsel. The census - which was nothing but eternal damnation - must be avoided at any cost. After a brief discussion the whole company, men and women, decided to bury themselves alive with their children. With a glowing and gloomy ardour they feverishly dug four subterranean tunnels. Then, arrayed in shrouds and holding candles, they read their own burial service. For the last time Vitalia addressed them without in any way hiding the ghastly sufferings which awaited them - and would open the gates of heaven to them. Then with songs of triumph they all jumped into the pits, which. they walled up from the inside. When the authorities were informed and proceeded to exhume the bodies, it was found that the death agonies of the "martyrs" had lasted more than a day.
These tragic episodes are rare, but the religious sects which swarm in the shadow of orthodoxy are continually producing examples of collective "exaltation." Sometimes an epidemic of demoniacal possession breaks out in a village and spreads far and wide. Sometimes a hermitage or monastery becomes the centre of a prophetic movement. Sometimes, again, a wave of idealist or sensual mysticism sweeps a whole district off its feet.
One of the most extraordinary manifestations which have been observed of recent years was the outbreak in the neighbourhood of Kiev among the sect of the Maliovanists which took the form of aberrations of the sense of smell. In their emotional fits the faithful, - simple peasants - thought they suddenly perceived smells of indescribable sweetness. With radiant faces they ran about smelling and blessing each other, convinced that what they noticed was the "odour of the Holy Spirit."
Facts of this kind, which are innumerable in the domestic history of Russia, emphasize one of the most characteristic features of the national temperament. No race is so susceptible to religious oratory and new ideas. In no other country, except, perhaps, the Mohammedan East, are the masses so excitable, so incapable of resisting mental contagion. Nowhere do psychic waves spread so rapidly and go so far. Every stage of the evolution of the Russian people is thus marked by a religious, moral, or political epidemic.
In that respect the anarchist troubles of 1905 provide a most eloquent and formidable piece of evidence. The sanguinary mutinies in the fleet and army, the exploits of the "Black Band," the destruction in the Baltic Provinces, the pogroms of Armenians and Jews were really nothing but epidemics of massacre, pillage, and arson. In each of these tragic occurrences the mental contamination of the actors was practically immediate. By his susceptibility to every form of propaganda and the feebleness of his personal reactions the moujik showed once more how backward he is, how near to nature, and how much the slave of his own instincts.
Saturday, March 27, 1915.
In the whole realm of the Russian novel there are no feminine figures more appealing and seductive, or animated by a deeper and truer vitality, than the heroines of Smoke and Anna Karenina. Yet Turgueniev and Tolstoy both went to life itself for their models.
The Irene of Smoke lets out part of her secret herself. When that splendid creature, at once feminine and open-hearted, egoistical and passionate, tries to win back the man she was once to have married but sacrificed to a calculation of personal advantage, the excuse she makes is that her ruined parents speculated infamously in her beauty: she was taken to court and there attracted a very high personage who married her to a fat, tame general in order to make her his mistress. At the memory of this humiliation she lowers her eyes and murmurs: "It's a strange and melancholy story!" That young girl was the Princess Alexandra Sergueievna Dolgoruky, and the high personage who fell in love with her was none other than the Emperor Alexander II. About 1860 her influence with her imperial lover, the favours he heaped upon her, her quick intellect, charm of mind, and dignified manners won her the nickname of "La Grande Mademoiselle." Before long the Tsar married her to General Albedinsky, to whom a totally unexpected career was thus opened; he was Governor of Poland when he died. Up to the last Alexandra Sergueievna remained the friend and confidante of Alexander II. Her brother, Prince Alexander Dolgoruky, became Grand Marshal of the Imperial Court in the reign of Alexander III. One of her sisters married the present Grand Marshal, Count Paul Benckendorff.
Anna Karenina's adventure was also the result of observation from life. The character of Alexis Karenina, the main characteristics of Anna herself and the moral struggle of the husband and wife were suggested to Tolstoy by the secret drama which has just occurred in the family circle of the very worthy and pious Constantine Pobiedonostsev, the famous Procurator of the Holy Synod.
Sunday, March 28, 1915.
Yesterday the Emperor showed Sazonov a letter he had just received from Prince Gottfried von Hohenlohe, who is now Austro-Hungarian Ambassador in Berlin after twelve years' service as military attaché at the Royal and Imperial Embassy in Russia.
Recalling the friendly spirit the Emperor has always shown him, Prince Hohenlohe says he is prepared to answer for the pacific views of the court of Vienna; he has therefore suggested to the Tsar that a confidential envoy should be sent to Switzerland to confer with an emissary from the Emperor Francis Joseph; he has no doubt that the basis of an honourable peace could easily be found.
"This letter," said Sazonov, " shows that the moral of Austria is very low; but no reply will be sent. Old Francis Joseph is not yet tired enough of the war to accept the terms we should impose."
I said nothing, as Delcassé has instructed me never to utter a word which might induce Russia to think that we do not abandon Austria to her in toto. But how, and by what mental aberration, is it that our people will not realize the enormous importance to us of detaching the Hapsburgs from the Teutonic coalition? Is our military situation so favourable as all that? Can the doubtful help we are expecting from Italy ever be worth as much as the immediate and irreparable loss to Germany which the defection of Austria would involve?
Tuesday, March 30, 1915.
Ever since the war began the Jews of Poland and Lithuania have been passing through the most terrible trials. In August they were compelled to leave the frontier zone en masse and given no time to remove any of their belongings. After a short respite the expulsions have begun again in the most summary, hasty, and brutal manner. All the Israelite inhabitants of Grodno, Lomza, Plotsk, Kutno, Lodz, Pietrokov, Kielce, Radom, and Lublin have successively been driven into the interior in the direction of Podolia and Volhynia. Everywhere the process of departure has been marked by scenes of violence and pillage under the complacent eye of the authorities. Hundreds of thousands of these poor people have been seen wandering over the snows, driven like cattle by platoons of Cossacks, abandoned in the greatest distress at the stations, camping in the open round the towns, and dying of hunger, weariness, and cold. And to fortify their courage these pitiful multitudes have everywhere encountered the same feelings of hatred and scorn, the same suspicion of espionage and treason. In its long and grievous history Israel has never known more tragic migrations. And yet there are 240,000 Jewish soldiers fighting, and fighting well, in the ranks of the Russian army!
Wednesday, March 31, 1915.
Another lively discussion with Sazonov on the subject of the territorial claims which the Italian Government is making in Dalmatia.
"Italy's claims," he said, "are a challenge to the Slav conscience! Remember that Saint Isaac of Dalmatia is one of the greatest saints in the orthodox calendar!"(2)
I replied somewhat sharply:
"We have taken up arms to save Serbia because the ruin of Serbia would have signified the final hegemony of the Teutonic powers; but we are not fighting to realize the chimeric dreams of Slavism. The sacrifice of Constantinople is quite enough!"