Memories Of The Russian Court

A Defence of the Staretz

There is a photograph which, in the last days of the Empire, was published all over Russia, and was, I am informed, also published in western Europe and in America. It represents Rasputin sitting like an oracle in his lodgings, surrounded by ladies of the aristocracy. This photograph is supposed to illustrate the enormous hold which Rasputin possessed on the affections of the women of the Court. In plain language it is assumed to be a representation of Rasputin sitting in the midst of his harem. There has been no account published which, as far as I know, does not dwell on this phase of the Rasputin story, and there have been books published in which the most erotic letters, purporting to have been written him by the Empress herself and even by the innocent young Grand Duchesses, have been included, the publishers apparently never having inquired into their authenticity. Knowing that my evidence will be considered of little worth, I still have the temerity to state without any qualification whatsoever that these stories are without the slightest foundation. Rasputin had no harem at Court. In fact, I cannot remotely imagine a woman of education and refinement being attracted to him in a personal way. I never knew of one being so attracted, and although accusations of secret debauchery with women of the lower classes were made against him by agents of the Okhrana, the special inquiry instituted by the Commission of the Provisional Government failed to produce any evidence in support of the charges. The police were never able to bring forward a single woman of any class whom they could accuse with Rasputin.

The photograph, however, is authentic. I figure in it myself, therefore I am in a position to explain it. It shows a group of women and men who after attending early Mass sometimes gathered around Rasputin for religious discourse, for advice on all manner of things, and probably on the part of some for the gratification of idle curiosity. I do not know whether or not in western countries religion produces in the neurotic and shallow-minded a kind of emotional excitement which they mistake for faith, but in Russia there was a time when this was so. For the most part, however, it was really serious people, men and women, who went after Mass to listen to the discourses of Rasputin. He was, as I have said, an unlettered man, but he knew the Scriptures and his interpretations were so keen and so original that highly educated people, even learned churchmen, liked to listen to them. In matters of faith and doctrine he could never be confused or confounded. Moreover, his sympathy and his charity were so wide and tender that he attracted women of narrow lives whose small troubles might have been dismissed as trivial by ordinary confessors. For example, many lovelorn women (men too) used to go to those morning meetings to beg his prayers on their heart's behalf. He knew that unsatisfied love is a very real trouble, and he was always gentle and patient with such people, that is, if their souls were innocent. For irregular love affairs he had no patience whatever, and in this connection I remember an incident which illustrates this point, and also his remarkable powers of divination, or if you prefer, his keen intuition. A young married woman, harmless enough in her intentions, but rather frivolous nevertheless, came one morning to Rasputin's lodgings en route to a rendezvous with a handsome young officer who at the moment strongly attracted her. It was her idea to ask Rasputin's prayers in behalf of her special desire, but before she could say a word to him he gave her a keen glance and said: "I am going to relate to you a story. Once when I was traveling in Siberia I entered a small railroad station and beheld at a table a monk who recognized me and begged me to join him in a glass of tea. As I approached the table I saw him hastily conceal a bottle under the folds of his soutaine. He said: 'You are called a saint. Will you not help me to understand some of the troubled problems of my life?' I replied 'Ah! You call me a saint. But why do you at the time of asking me to help your troubled soul try to hide that bottle under your robe?' " The young woman turned deathly pale and without a word rose hastily and left the room.

This is only one of many similar incidents. Once at Kiev a Government functionary approached Rasputin and asked his prayers for one lying very ill. Rasputin's amazing eyes gazed into the eyes of the other and he said calmly: "I advise you to beseech not my prayers but those of Ste. Xenia." The functionary completely taken aback exclaimed: "How could you know that her name was Xenia?" I could relate many other such instances which can, of course, be attributed to intuition, thought transference, anything you like. But of true predictions of future events made by Rasputin what explanation can be given? What of his mysterious powers over the sick?

In behalf of the suffering little Tsarevich the Emperor and Empress constantly asked the prayers of Rasputin, and the incident which I shall now relate will appeal to any mother or father of a suffering child and will render less childlike the faith of the afflicted parents of the heir to the throne. One day during the War the Emperor left Tsarskoe Selo for general headquarters, taking with him as usual the Tsarevich. The child seemed to be in good condition, but a few hours after leaving the palace he was taken with a nosebleed. This is ordinarily a harmless enough manifestation, but in one suffering from Alexei's incurable malady it was a very serious thing. The doctors tried every known remedy, but the hemorrhage became steadily worse until death by exhaustion and loss of blood was threatened. I was with the Empress when the telegram came announcing the return of the Emperor and the boy to Tsarskoe Selo, and I can never forget the anguish of mind with which the poor mother awaited the arrival of her sick, perhaps her dying child. Nor can I ever forget the waxen, gravelike pallor of the little pointed face as the boy with infinite care was borne into the palace and laid on his little white bed. Above the blood-soaked bandages his large blue eyes gazed at us with pathos unspeakable, and it seemed to all around the bed that the last hour of the unhappy child was at hand. The physicians kept up their ministrations, exhausting every means known to science to stop the incessant bleeding. In despair the Empress sent for Rasputin. He came into the room, made the sign of the cross over the bed and, looking intently at the almost moribund child, said quietly to the kneeling parents: "Don't be alarmed, Nothing will happen." Then he walked out of the room and out of the palace.

That was all. The child fell asleep, and the next day was so well that the Emperor left for his interrupted visit to the Stavka. Dr. Derevenko and Prof essor Fedoroff told me afterwards that they did, not even attempt to explain the cure. It was simply a f act. For this and for other like services Rasputin never received any money from the Emperor or the Empress. Indeed he was never given any money by their Majesties except an occasional one-hundred ruble note to pay cab fares and traveling expense's when he was sent for. In the last two years of his life the rent of his modest lodgings in St. Petersburg was paid. What money he had was received from petitioners who hoped through him to benefit in high quarters. Rasputin took this money, but he gave most of it to the poor, so that when he died his family was left practically penniless. That Rasputin, whatever his faults, was no mercenary is the simple truth. As far back as 1913 Kokovsev, Minister of Finance, who disliked and distrusted Rasputin, offered him 200,000 rubles if he would leave St. Petersburg and never return. Two hundred thousand rubles was a fortune beyond the dream of avarice to a Russian peasant, but Rasputin declined it, saying that he was not to be bought by anybody. "If their Majesties wish me to leave St. Petersburg," he said, "I will go at once, and for no money at all."

I know of many cases of illness where the prayers of Rasputin were asked, and had he been so minded he might have demanded and been given vast sums of money. But the fact is he often showed himself extremely reluctant to exert whatever strange power he possessed. In some instances where sick children were involved he would even object, saying: "If God takes him now it is perhaps to save him from future sins."

This indifference to money on the part of Rasputin was all the more conspicuous in a country where almost every hand was stretched out for reward, graft, or blackmail. The episode of one of Rasputin's bitterest enemies, the "mad" monk Illiador, is illuminating. Illiador was a person altogether disreputable, an unfrocked monk, and in my opinion a man mentally as well as morally irresponsible. He made friends with certain ministers, among them Khvostov, one of several who, after the death of Stolypin, held for a time the portfolio of Minister of the Interior. Between Khvostov and Illiador was concocted a plot to assassinate Rasputin. This was not successful because Illiador made the mistake of sending his wife to St. Petersburg with incriminating documents. But he was able to send a woman to Siberia, and she dealt Rasputin a knife wound from which he with difficulty recovered. This was in 1914.

After Rasputin the object of Illiador's greatest hatred was the Empress. His plot against Rasputin failing, he wrote against the Empress one of the most scurrilous and obscene books imaginable, but before attempting to publish it he sent her word that he would sell her the manuscript for sixty thousand rubles. Publishers in America, he wrote, would pay him a much higher price for the book, but he was willing to sacrifice something to save a woman's reputation. To this low blackmailer the indignant Empress returned no answer at all. Illiador lives in Russia now, a great favorite with the Bolsheviki because of his bitter attacks on the clergy. But whether or not they permitted him to retain his profits on the book against the Empress I do not know.

But what of Rasputin's political influence, his treason with the Germans? The excuse for his murder was that he was leading the Emperor and Empress into the German net, persuading them to betray the Allies by making a separate peace. If I knew or suspected this to be true I would not hesitate to record it here. I would not dare to suppress such important historical evidence, if I had it, because all that I am writing in this book is for the future, not the present; for history, not for the ephemeral journalism of the day. Ministers, politicians, churchmen haunted the lodgings of Rasputin, and if any man ever had an opportunity to mingle in secret diplomacy he was that man. As a matter of plain justice to him, I do not believe such matters ever interested him. On two occasions of which I have knowledge he did give the Emperor political advice, and very shrewd advice, although it was received with irritation and resentment by his Majesty. One of these occasions was in 1912 when Grand Duke Nicholas, whose wife it will be remembered was a Montenegrin, tried his every power of persuasion to bring Russia into the Balkan Wars. Rasputin implored the Emperor not to listen to this counsel. Only enemies of Russia, he declared, wanted to involve their country in that struggle, the inevitable outcome of which would be disaster to the Empire and to the house of Romanov.

Rasputin always dreaded war, predicting that it would surely bring ruin to Russia and the monarchy. At the beginning of the World War he was lying wounded by Illiador's assassin in Siberia, but he sent a long telegram to the Emperor begging him to preserve peace. The Emperor, believing intervention in Serbia a point of honor, tore up the telegram and for a time appeared rather cold towards Rasputin. But as the War progressed they became friends again, for after it became inevitable Rasputin wanted the War fought through to a victorious end. The last time the Emperor saw him, about a month before his assassination, he gave a signal proof of this. The meeting took place in my house, and I heard every word of the conversation. The Emperor was depressed and pessimistic. Owing to heavy storms and lack of transportation facilities there had been difficulty in getting foodstuffs into St. Petersburg,' and even some army battalions were lacking certain necessities. Nature itself, said the Emperor, seemed to be working against Russia's success in the War, to which Rasputin replied strongly advising the Emperor never, on any account, to be tempted to give up the struggle. The country that held out the longest against adverse circumstances, lie said, would certainly win the War. As Rasputin was leaving the house the Emperor asked him, as usual, for his blessing, but Rasputin replied: "This time it is for you to bless me, not I you." Finally at parting he humbly begged the Emperor to do everything he could in behalf of the wounded and of war orphans, reminding him that all Russia was giving its nearest and dearest for his sake. Did Rasputin on this day have a premonition of the fate that was so soon to overtake him? I cannot answer that question. It is impossible for me to know with any certainty whether or not this strange man was actually gifted with the spirit of prophecy or whether his frequent forecastings of truth were simply fruits of a mind more than normally keen and observant. All I can do, all I have attempted to do, is to picture Rasputin as I knew him. I never once saw him otherwise than I have described. I knew that he was reputed to drink and to indulge in other reprehensible practices. I heard, I suppose, every wild tale that was told of him. But no one ever presented to the Imperial Family or to myself any evidence, any facts in support of these accusations. It is a matter of record, and this the historians of the future will stress, that this man was called a criminal, but that he was never meted out the common justice which is supposed to be the right of the most abandoned criminal. He was accused of nameless crimes and he was executed for those crimes. But he was denied even the rough justice of a trial by his self appointed judges. Did "Tsarist" Russia ever do such a thing to a man caught red-handed in the murder of an Emperor?

I have added as an appendix to this book a document which has been published in Russian and French, but which I believe appears here for the first time in English. It is the statement of Vladimir Mikhailovich Rudnev, a judge of a superior court in Ekaterinoslav, one of a number of distinguished jurists appointed by Kerensky, when Minister of Justice in the Provisional Government, to a special High Commission of Inquiry and Investigation into the Acts of the Sovereigns and other prominent personages before the Revolution of 1917- Judge Rudnev, with great courage and honesty, made an effort to sift the evidence against Rasputin and to separate truth from mere rumor. That he was unable to treat the matter in a mood of perfect judicial calm, although he earnestly wished to do so, is proof enough of the madness of the Russian mind in that time of turmoil and bewilderment. Anyone at all familiar with rules of evidence will perceive how, with the best intentions, judge Rudnev often offers opinion where facts alone are called for. A great many of his statements, if given in a court of justice, would in any civilized country be challenged and probably ruled out. However, the statement is valuable because it is the unique attempt of a justice-loving individual to escape from the mob mind of 1917 Russia and to present impartially the known facts about Rasputin. For his honesty in insisting that the facts be made public judge Rudnev was ignominiously removed from the commission by its president, judge Muraviev . As far as I know and believe, none of the other members of the commission attempted to publish their findings.

I shall always feel that it was a great pity that Rasputin was not arrested, tried in the presence of his accusers and of all available witnesses, and if found guilty punished to the very limit of the law. As it was he was merely lynched and the question of his guilt or innocence will ever remain unsolved. Latest accounts certainly absolve the Empress of Russia from being his tool and his guilty partner, and death, whether by assassination or at the hand of public justice, has the same end, the righteous judgment of God, and from that perfect justice not the worst enemy of the man could. bar the soul of Rasputin.

One thing more I deeply regret and that is that judge Rudnev could not have tried Rasputin in person as he did try me. I appeared before him no less than fifteen times and I always found him studious at getting at the truth, separating facts from hysterical gossip, all in the interests of justice and of historical records. In his reports concerning me there are some errors, but not serious ones, some confusion of dates, but nothing important, and once or twice some trifling injustice for which I bear not the slightest malice. judge Rudnev, for example, accuses me of loquacity, and in my testimony of jumping irrelevantly from one thought to another. I cannot help wondering if even a learned judge, after weeks of imprisonment, accompanied by inhuman insults and bodily injuries, and for the first time given an opportunity for explanation and self-defense, would have spoken in quite a calm and normal manner. However, I do not complain of anything judge Rudnev says of me. I am grateful to the only Russian in a position of authority who has had the chivalry to give me the benefit of a reasonable doubt.

All others, including members of the Romanov family who have known me from my earliest childhood, who in youth danced and chatted with me at Court balls, who knew my mother and my father, with his long and honorable record, have assailed me without a shred of mercy. They have represented me as a common upstart, an outsider in society who managed through unworthy schemes to worm her way into the confidence of the Empress. They have represented me as an abandoned woman, a criminal, a would-be poisoner of the Tsarevich. They have been so loud in their denunciations of one defenseless woman that they have succeeded in concealing the fact of their own participation in events for which the Sovereigns were brought to ruin. They have thrown a blind before their responsibility for bringing Rasputin to the Court of Russia. Never do they allow it to be remembered that it was the Grand Dukes Nicholas and Peter and their Montenegrin wives, Stana and Melitza, who introduced the Emperor and Empress to the poor peasant pilgrim who, had he never been taken up, by these aristocrats, might have lived out an obscure, and perhaps valuable, existence in far Siberia. it was easier for these powerful ones, these sheltered women, these noble gentlemen, to avoid explanation of their part in the Russian tragedy and to take refuge behind the skirts of a woman who, after the overthrow of the Imperial Family, had not a friend on earth to defend or to protect her.

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Tsar Nicholas II

Tsar Nicholas II

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