Volume II - CHAPTER IV - NOVEMBER 9 - DECEMBER 31, 1915
Tuesday, November 9, 1915.
The gust of reaction which a month ago swept away the Minister of the Interior, Prince Stcherbatov, and the Procurator of the Holy Synod, Samarin, has just claimed a new victim: the Minister of Agriculture, Krivoshein, has been relieved of his functions on a casual suggestion of ill-health.
To his high administrative talents Krivoshein adds something which is uncommon in Russia - the temperament of a statesman. He is unquestionably the most eminent representative of monarchical liberalism. He has fallen at the will of Rasputin, who accuses him of complicity with the revolutionaries. As a matter of fact, I doubt whether Krivoshein's constitutional ideal goes much beyond the French Charter of 1814, and I would answer for his religious fervour equally with his dynastic loyalty.
The Government of which Goremykin is head now counts but two ministers with liberal leanings: Sazonov and General Polivanov.
Wednesday, November 10, 1915.
Of all the inconveniences and restrictions which are the result of the war, Russian society feels none more keenly than the impossibility of going abroad. There is hardly a day on which I do not hear homesick sighs for Trouville, Cannes, Biarritz, Spa, Bellagio, Venice, and the most bewitching of all - Paris! Of course, I have no doubt that, in petto, the evil-sounding names of Carlsbad, Gastein, Homburg and Wiesbaden are added to the list.
This hankering after travel is the outcome of a strong instinct of the Russian nation: nomadism.
Among the lower classes the instinct takes the form of vagrancy. The whole of Russia is dotted with moujiks who wander at will, unable to settle down anywhere. Maxim Gorky has picturesquely described the strange poetry of their character, in which cynical habits of idleness, dissoluteness and theft are associated with a passion for individualism, an insatiable thirst for novelty, an exquisite feeling for nature and music, and an exalted sense .of imagination and melancholy. Sometimes there is the element of mysticism. Such are those eternal pilgrims, the haggard and ragged stranniki, who wander ceaselessly from monastery to monastery, one sanctuary to another, begging a piece of bread "in the name of Christ."
In the case of Russians in high society, the passion for travel is only an expression of their moral unrest, and the impulse to avoid ennui, and escape from themselves. With many of them this passion becomes a mania, a kind of itch. Their departures are always sudden, unexpected and motiveless; it is to be supposed that they yield to an irresistible impulse. As they cannot now go west, they go to Moscow, Kiev, Finland, the Crimea or the Caucasus - and come back almost at once. I could give the names of two women who last summer suddenly departed for the monastery of Solovietsky, situated on an island in the White Sea, one hundred and sixty sea miles from Archangel - and came back a fortnight later.
Friday, November 12, 1915.
Under the double pressure of the Austro-Germans on the north and the Bulgarians on the east, the unfortunate Serbians have been crushed, despite a heroic resistance.
On November 7, the town of Nish, Serbia's ancient metropolis and the birthplace of Constantine the Great, fell into the hands of the Bulgarians. Between Kralievo and Krujevatz, the Austro-Germans have crossed the Western Morava, capturing masses of booty at every step.
Yesterday the Anglo-French advance guard established contact with the Bulgarians in the Vardar valley, near Karasu. But the intervention of the Allies in Macedonia has come too late. Before long there will be no more Serbia!
Saturday, November 13, 1915.
At the club old Prince Viazemski, an ultra-reactionary and inveterate grumbler, started talking to me about domestic politics. Of course he thoroughly approves of Krivoshein's dismissal. He thinks Russia can be saved only by a ruthless application of the creed of autocracy. I adopted an attitude of reserve.
"Of course you must think me hopelessly behind the times," he said, "and I suspect all your sympathy is with M. Krivoshein. But to me Liberals who affect to be monarchists, and are always proclaiming their loyalty, are the most dangerous of all. In the case of genuine revolutionaries, at any rate you know where you are; you see where you're going ... or will go. But these others - whether they call themselves Progressives, Cadets or Octobrists is all the same to me - are traitors to our political system, and leading us hypocritically into the revolution, which will certainly swallow them up on the first day. It will go a long way further than they think, and its horrors will be worse than anything ever known. The socialists won't get all the fun to themselves; the peasants will be in it, too. And when the moujik - who looks so gentle and kind--breaks loose, he becomes a savage. We shall see Pugatchev's time again. It will be ghastly! Our last chance of salvation is in reaction... . I mean it! No doubt I'm shocking you by talking like this, and you're too courteous to answer; but let me just tell you all I think!"
"You're right not to construe my silence as acquiescence. But you're not shocking me at all; I'm listening to you with great interest. Please go on."
"All right, I'll continue. In the West no one knows anything about us. Tsarism is judged by the writings of our revolutionaries and novelists. People don't know that Tsarism is Russia itself. It was the Tsars who made Russia, and the roughest and most ruthless of them were the best. Without Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great and Nicholas I, there would have been no Russia... . The Russian nation is the most docile of all when it is strictly ruled, but it is incapable of governing itself. The moment it is given its head it lapses into anarchy. Our whole history is the proof. It needs a master, an absolute master; it walks straight only when it feels a mailed fist above its head. It finds the slightest taste of liberty intoxicating. You'll never change its nature - there are some people who get drunk on a single glass of wine. Perhaps it's one result of the long Tartar domination. But there it is! We shall never be governed by English methods... . No, Parliamentarism will never take root among us."
"What's the alternative? ... The knout and Siberia?"
He hesitated for a moment. Then he laughed, a loud and bitter laugh:
"The knout? We got it from the Tartars, and, it's one of the best things they left us.... As for Siberia, you can take my word for it that God didn't place it at the very gates of Russia for nothing."
"You remind me of an Annamite proverb I was told in Saigon many years ago: God makes the bamboo grow wherever there. are Annamites. The little yellow coolies have perfectly appreciated the relationship between the bamboo stalk and their own backs. As I don't want to end our conversation with a joke, may I say that in my heart of hearts I very much hope to see Russia gradually adapting herself to a system of representative government, on a scale commensurate with the high degree to which that form of government seems to me compatible with the temperament of the Russian nation. But as ambassador of an Allied Power I am not less anxious that all experiments in reform should be postponed until peace is signed, as I agree with you that at the present time Tsarism is the highest national expression of Russia, and her greatest force."
Sunday, November 14, 1915.
From all I hear from Moscow and the provinces, the disaster to the Serbians is causing the greatest anguish to the soul of Russia, a soul which is highly responsive to the sentiments of pity and fraternity.
Apropos of this subject, Sazonov has been telling me that he had a talk yesterday with the Emperor's confessor, Father Alexander Vassiliev:
"He's a saint," he said, "with a heart of gold and a really high and pure faith. He lives in retirement, away from the world, and spends his time in prayer. I've known him since my childhood... . Yesterday I met him at the door of the Church of the Saviour and we took a turn together. He plied me with questions innumerable about Serbia. Had we left anything undone to save her? Was there still any hope of checking the invasion? Is there no means of sending fresh troops to Salonica? And so on. As I displayed considerable surprise at his persistence, he said: 'I've no hesitation in telling you privately that our beloved Tsar is overwhelmed with grief - and almost remorse - at the misfortunes of Serbia.'"
Tuesday, November 16, 1915.
During the last fortnight the Russian Courland army has been conducting a stubborn offensive with some success in the region of Schlock, Üxkull and Dvinsk, The operation is of secondary importance only, but it compels the German General Staff to employ a large number of troops in the fighting in extremely cold weather.
Madame S - -, who has just come from Üxkull, where she is in charge of a hospital has been telling me of the patience, gentleness and resignation of the Russian wounded. "In this," she said, "there is almost always an element of religious emotion which sometimes takes strange and utterly mystical forms. Many a time, in the case of quite untutored moujiks, I have been struck by their idea that their sufferings are not only an expiation of their own sins, but represent their share of responsibility for the world's sin, so that it is their duty to bear their pain as Christ bore his cross - for the redemption of humanity. If you lived with our peasants for a short time you'd be surprised to see how thoroughly evangelical in spirit they are... ."
With a smile, she added:
"Though that doesn't prevent them from being brutal, idle, lazy, thieving, lustful, incestuous and Heaven knows what else. ... What a bundle of complications the Slay must seem to you!"
"Yes. As Turgueniev said: 'The Slav soul is a dark forest.'"
Sunday, November 21, 1915.
Fog, snow and an atmosphere of grey melancholy. As winter wraps Russia in her funeral shroud, men's minds become gloomy and their wills feeble. All the faces I see around me are downcast: all the talk I overhear is pessimistic. Every conversation on the subject of the war may be summarized in the same reflection, express or implied: "What's the good of fighting on? Aren't we beaten already? How can anyone imagine we shall ever recover?"
The disease is rampant, and not only in the salons and educated circles, to which the turn of events at the front gives only too many opportunities of indulging their love of fault-finding. judging by many symptoms, pessimism is no less rife among the working-classes and the peasants.
In the case of the working men the revolutionary virus would be enough to account for a dislike of the war and an obliteration of patriotic feeling which is equivalent to a desire for defeat: but in the case of the ignorant peasants, may it not be that pessimism has an indirect and unconscious cause which is wholly physiological - the ban on spirits? The traditional nutrition of a race cannot with impunity be changed by a sudden decree. The abuse of spirits was certainly a danger to the physical and moral health of the moujiks, but the fact remains that vodka constituted an important element in their diet, the nervous tonic par excellence, and a food which was particularly necessary, as the tissue-repairing qualities of their other food are almost always inadequate. Ill-fed and deprived of their natural stimulant, the Russian people are increasingly sensitive to depressing influences. If the war continues much longer they will become neurasthenic. The effect is that the great reform of August 1914 - the result of a noble impulse, and the first effects of which were so salutary - seems to be developing into an evil for Russia.
Thursday, November 25, 1915.
The last act of the Serbian tragedy is approaching its epilogue. The tide of invasion has swept over and beyond the whole of her territory. The Bulgarians are already at the gates of Prizrend. Exhausted by its heroic efforts, Marshal Putnik's little army is retreating to the Adriatic through the Albanian mountains, over bottomless roads, surrounded by hostile tribes and in blinding snowstorms. Thus in less than six weeks the German General Staff has carried out its plan of opening up a direct route between Germany and Turkey through Serbia and Bulgaria.
By way of relieving his conscience, pro remedio animæ suæ, the Emperor Nicholas has ordered a sustained attack on the Austrians in Volhynia, near Tsartorysk; but it has had no result.
Friday, November 26, 1915.
Financial. circles in Petrograd are in continuous communication with Germany through Sweden, and all their views on the war are inspired by Berlin.
The thesis they have been expounding during the last few weeks bears a thoroughly German stamp. We must see things as they are, they say. The two groups of belligerents must realize that neither will ever succeed in vanquishing and really crushing the other. The war will inevitably end in arrangements and a compromise. In that case, the sooner the better. If hostilities continue, the Austro-Germans will organize an enormous fortified line round their present conquests, and make it impregnable. So in future let us give up these futile offensives; with the inviolable protection of their trenches, they will patiently wait until their disheartened adversaries moderate their demands. Thus peace will inevitably be negotiated on the basis of territorial pledges.
When I hear arguments of this kind I never fail to reply that it is our enemies' vital interest to obtain a swift decision, because, when all is said and done, their material resources are limited while ours are practically inexhaustible. In any case the German General Staff is condemned by its theories to persevere with an offensive strategy and strive, at any cost and without rest or respite, for sensational and decisive results. Its concern for its own prestige urges it in that direction no less than its military principles. And even if it were not so, would not elementary reason refuse to allow that a struggle which has set in motion such mighty forces, and is increasing in scale every day, can end with a diplomatic compromise? This war is not simply a matter of two groups of States in, conflict; it is even more than antagonism between races. It is a struggle between two political dogmas, two tendencies of the human spirit, two conceptions of human life. It is a duel to the death.
I was discussing these questions with Putilov, the great metallurgist and financier. He said to me:
"But in that case the war may go on for years yet."
"I'm very much afraid so."
"Do you believe in our victory?"
After a long pause for reflection, during which a strange light shone in his steel-grey eyes, he resumed in a gloomy tone:
"What your argument comes to is this, Ambassador; that time is on our side... . I wouldn't be too certain, at any rate so far as Russia is concerned. I know my countrymen: they tire very quickly; they're getting exasperated with this war; they won't stand it much longer."
"You don't hope to see a repetition of the miracle of 1812? "
"Why, the 1812 campaign was very short. Six months at the outside! ... If I remember rightly, the French crossed the Niemen on June 25. On November 25 they recrossed the Berezina, and a few weeks later they were all out of Russia. For the rest of the war we had only to harvest the fruits of our victory. It's easy enough to persevere when you're winning. If our troops were now fighting on the Elbe, or even on the Oder, instead of holding their own - and even that with difficulty - on the Dvina and the Styr, it would not alarm me to admit that the war may go on for years yet!"
Sunday, November 28, 1915.
When Bulgaria declared war on Serbia, Savinsky, the Russian Minister in Sofia, was confined to bed by a severe attack of appendicitis; he only left the Bulgarian capital quite recently.
He arrived in Petrograd yesterday, and came to see me this afternoon. I have known him for a long time. He has a subtle, adaptable and attractive personality, possesses all the qualities requisite to make the Tsar Ferdinand like him, and has succeeded in that respect, at any rate so far as personal feeling goes.
He has been telling me of the crisis of last September and his impotent rage at being nailed to his bed by pain and fever at such a vital moment. When the rupture between Bulgaria and Serbia had become final, Tsar Ferdinand suddenly appeared in the Russian Legation. without even announcing his visit, so that Savinsky had no chance of avoiding it. The Tsar, grave and pompous, with his tightly-drawn lips and piercing eyes under half-closed lids, made a great show of controlling his emotion - an emotion which was not all comedy - and began by bewailing the melancholy duties of his position, to the accompaniment of deep sighs. As usual, he turned the infamy of his behaviour to his own glorification. Once again he had sacrificed himself to the welfare of his people! No one would ever know how much it had cost him to bow to reasons of State! ... Then - as if perhaps already preparing to betray his new allies - he spoke of his distrust of Austria and Germany. For thirty years the Hohenzollerns and Hapsburgs had made him the object of their hatred: he would never forgive them. But what of it! His conscience, as the supreme head of the State, had compelled him to side with the Teutonic empires... . Later on, men would do him justice! ... After a long pause, he wound up with his most sibylline air:
"When I leave this world's stage, or that of the Balkans, the gulf which has just opened between my people and the Russian people will fill up as if by magic."
Thereupon he raised himself to his full height, shook Savinsky's hand, and withdrew with a slow and solemn step which was the very soul of pride.
Monday, November 29, 1915.
I could never have believed that two great countries could know and think so little of each other as Russia and the United States. As types of humanity, the Russian and the American are the very antithesis of each other. In everything - politics, religion, ethics, intellectual culture, imaginative and emotional manifestations, temperamental characteristics, general views on life - they are poles apart, and a striking contrast. The Russian's will is always passive and unstable: moral discipline is unknown to him, and he is never happy save in dreamland. The American has a positive and practical mind, a sense of duty and a passion for work. To Russian society the United States appears a selfish, prosaic and barbarous nation, without traditions or dignity, the natural home of democracy and the natural refuge of Jews and nihilists.
In the eyes of the American Russia is simply the iniquities of Tsarism, the atrocities of anti-Semitism and the ignorance and drunkenness of the moujiks. In contrast to the experience of England, France and Germany, it is very uncommon for Russians to marry American women: I can only think of three in the circles in which I move - Prince Sergei Bielosselsky, Prince Cantacuzene Speransky and Count Nostitz.
The result is that America hardly ever enters into the calculations of the Imperial Government, or crosses the mind of Russian statesmen. That the United States may one day be called upon to play an outstanding, and perhaps decisive, part when the time for peace comes, and exhausted Europe can no longer continue the struggle, is an idea which has never entered anyone's head here, and even Sazonov is reluctant to contemplate the prospect.
In any case, if I am to believe what Princess Cantacuzene Speransky, a daughter of General Grant, tells me (she had letters from New York only yesterday), the democracy of America still seems very far from appreciating that the future of civilization is involved in the struggle by which the Old World is torn. On the Atlantic coast eyes are beginning to open and consciences to awaken. But beyond the Alleghany Mountains public opinion unanimously demands the maintenance of neutrality. The whole of the Middle West and Far West remains faithful to the narrow materialism of Jefferson and Munroe.
Tuesday, November 30, 1915.
One of the moral characteristics I am always noticing in the Russians is the readiness with which they accept defeat, and the resigned way in which they bow before the blows of fortune. Often enough they do not even wait for the decrees of fate to be pronounced, but submit and adapt themselves accordingly, by anticipation so to speak.
This inborn tendency gave the novelist Andreiev his inspiration for a novel I have just been reading, a novel which is instinct with very remarkable realism: The Governor.
One day this high official had to suppress a rising. He performed this task in a manner he considered imposed by his professional duty, in other words, with ruthless severity. Blood flowed in torrents. Forty-seven persons were killed, including nine women and three children; two hundred wounded were taken to hospital. Immediately after this tragedy the Governor was warmly congratulated for his energy, and official channels brought him the most flattering compliments. But all this evidence of approval left him cold, as he was obsessed by memories of the tragic day. Not that he felt any remorse; his conscience did not trouble him in the least; what he had done he would do again. His obsession was simply physical: he was always seeing a vision of the dead and wounded lying in the square.
Then his daily post began to bring him anonymous letters containing curses or threats; he was called Murderer of women and children. In one letter it was written: I dreamed to-night of your funeral. You have not long to live. From another he learned that a revolutionary tribunal had condemned him to death. Thus the idea of his approaching end gradually seized firm hold of his mind. "I'll be killed by a revolver bullet," he told himself. "No one in our little town knows how to make bombs; they are kept for the really big men in Saint Petersburg and Moscow... ."
He had no doubt now that he would fall under the bullet of an anarchist, and in feverish impatience awaited the inevitable end. He did not even try to protect himself. What was the use? When he was out driving he sent away his Cossack escort, and on his walks he would not allow his detectives to follow him. Every night he would say: "To-morrow's the day."
He imagined the inevitable scene in store for him as the essence of simplicity: "Someone will fire at me; I shall fall. Then there'll be my funeral, with much pomp. My decorations will be carried behind my coffin. And that's all!"
Obsessed by these sinister anticipations, he automatically regulated his life as if he were helping Fate in its task. Every day he took his walk in the deserted quarters or mean streets. He would wander about, easily recognizable by his height and his general's cap, gold epaulettes and heavy, crimson-lined cloak. He never turned his head to look behind or aside. He walked straight on, without regard for ruts and puddles, with a bold, firm stride, "like a corpse seeking its tomb." There came a rainy October morning when he was passing through a narrow lane with building land and a number of hovels on either side. Suddenly, two men emerged from behind a fence, and called out: "Your Excellency!" "Well, what do you want?" But even then he understood. Without cry or motion he stopped and faced his assailants. Three revolver bullets struck him down.
I am told that this story is simply a literary transcription of an actual incident. On May 19, 1903, General Bogdanovitch, the Governor of Ufa, was suddenly accosted in a deserted path in the public gardens by three men who fired at him at point-blank range. Among those he governed he had gained a reputation for justice and kindness. But on the previous March 23rd he had had to suppress a workmen's riot, and there had been a hundred victims. After this tragic occurrence Bogdanovitch was haunted by evil presentiments and, stricken with grief, simply lived in resigned expectation of his own assassination.
Wednesday, December 1, 1915.
I have often been struck by the strange and close affinity between the temperament of the Slavs and that of the Celtic races, the Bretons of Armorica, the Welsh and the Irish.
They display most of the characteristics catalogued by Renan in his fine study on the Poetry of the Celtic Races. I note certain features:
"Nowhere else does the eternal illusion deck itself out in such seductive colours. In the great concert of the human species, no family produces music which goes so straight to the heart. ... "
"The Cymric race, proud but timid, strong in imagination, weak in action.... Always behind the times... ."
"At no stage has it shown any aptitude for political life. It would seem that the peoples of which it is composed are incapable, unaided, of progress... ."
"Endowed with but little initiative, they soon believe in the remorseless march of destiny, and humbly accept it. Hence their melancholy.
"If we divide nations into sexes, as in the case of individuals, it could be said without hesitation that the Celtic race is essentially feminine."
The Russians themselves have frequently admitted their lack of capacity for progress. About 1880 that original and powerful thinker, Tchadaiev, wrote of Peter the Great: "A great man threw us the cloak of civilization. We picked up the cloak; but we did not touch the civilization. Isolated in the world, we have given it nothing and taken nothing from it; we have not added one idea to the treasure of human ideals; we have not contributed in the slightest degree to the advancement of human reason. . . . In our blood there is a morbid element which makes us proof against progress in any form."
In some ways, too, there are some remarkable coincidences between the work of Russian imagination and that of the Celts. An old legend, well known in Brittany, talks of a fabled city, the city of Is, which is said to have been engulfed by the sea in very remote times. On certain days fishermen believe they can descry beneath the waves the roofs and towers of the vanished city, which carried all the mysterious dreams of the race with it in its disappearance. The Russians, too, have their Atlantide, the invisible city of Kitej; it lies beneath the waters of Lake Svetloyar. He who sails upon those waters - provided he is pure of heart - can make out the golden cupolas of the churches, and even hear the sound of bells. There dwell the saints, peacefully awaiting Christ's second coming and the proclamation of the eternal gospel.
Thursday, December 2, 1915.
I have been discussing domestic politics with S - -, a great landed proprietor and member of his provincial Zemstvo. He is a man of broad views, far-sighted, and has always taken an interest in the life of the moujiks.
We began to talk about religious questions, and I told him frankly how surprised I was to discover, from symptoms innumerable, how greatly the Russian clergy had fallen in the estimation of the masses. After a moment's hesitation, S - - replied:
"It's the fault of Peter the Great, and an unpardonable fault."
"You know that Peter the Great abolished the patriarchal throne of Moscow, and replaced it with a bastard institution, the Holy Synod. His object, which he did not conceal, was to make the orthodox Church his tool. His success was only too great. Thanks to this system of despotism, the Church has not only lost its reputation and credit, but is now half strangled in the grip of the bureaucracy. Its life is flickering out day by day. The humble classes are coming to regard its priests as officials, tchinovniks, policemen, from whom they scornfully keep apart. The clergy, for their part, are becoming a closed caste, without prestige or education, and out of touch with the great currents of the century. Meanwhile, the upper classes are becoming indifferent to religion, and those with leanings towards asceticism or mysticism seek satisfaction in the aberrations of the sects. Before long, the official Church will have nothing but its formalism, its rites, sumptuous ceremonies and matchless anthems: it will be a body without a soul."
"In a word," I said to S - -, " Peter the Great's idea of the functions of his metropolitans was the same as Napoleon's of his archbishops when he told the Council of State to its face Why, an archbishop is a prefect of police as well!"
" Quite so!"
By way of throwing further light on the conversation I have just recorded, I will give a few details of the moral and material circumstances of the Russian clergy in country districts.
The village curé, the sviatchenik or, more popularly, batiushka, is almost always the son of a priest and therefore a member of the priestly caste by birth. He is obliged to marry before ordination - celibacy is confined to the monks - and usually weds the daughter of a priest. The marriage is the final step which incorporates him in his caste, but it is another barrier between him and the peasantry.
The performance of his parochial duties makes very little demand on his time. Only on Sundays and holidays is mass celebrated. The reading of the breviary is not compulsory. He takes confession barely once a year, as the Russians receive the sacrament at Easter only, after a very sketchy confession, a rambling outpouring of repentance which the sinners mutter as they pass in single file before the priest in a corner of the church. Nor does the sviatchenik know the labour of preparing children for their first communion, as they receive the eucharist as soon as they are baptized. Lastly, it is contrary to custom for him to interfere in the private life of his parishioners by advising them in matters of morals or conscience.
His sole task is to take the services, teach the catechism and administer the sacraments. With these exceptions, he has no spiritual duties.
In the intellectual sphere he has even less to occupy him, as he is without books, newspapers and reviews, or the means. of procuring them.
His chief occupation is the cultivation of the small plot of ground allotted to him by the commune. He has to work hard on it, as generally speaking he receives no stipend and his fees are insignificant. In increasing these perquisites, or even securing the normal tolls, he is in perpetual conflict with the moujiks. Every marriage, baptism, communion, extreme unction or burial, and every time he blesses a field or an isba, means disputes and haggling in which his priestly dignity suffers greatly. It is quite usual for the priest to hear himself called criminal, thief, drunkard and debauchee, and even blows are not spared him. In many villages his ignorance, idleness, evil-living and degradation have lost him every vestige of respect.
Yet, for all that, the necessity for the priestly ministry is recognized by all the peasants. Is not a specialist required to baptize the children, to say mass - so complicated a service - to bury the dead and plead with God for rain or drought? The sviatcbenik is this indispensable intermediary and intercessor.
The novelist Glieb Uspensky, who died in 1902 and has left us so remarkable an analysis of the peasants and so vivid a picture of their ways, puts the following words into the mouth of one of his characters: "The moujik commits sins from which neither the publican nor the Chief of Police, nor the Governor himself can absolve him. A priest is necessary. A priest is also required when the Lord sends a fine harvest and the peasant desires to thank him by lighting a candle. Where is he to show his candle? At the post office or the mayor's office? Not at all, but in the church.... Of course, there's not much to be said for our priest: he is always drunk. But what does that matter? The postmaster is a drunkard too, but it's he who sends the letters."
Friday, December 3, 1915.
I called on Madame S - - for tea rather late this evening. Her company numbered about a dozen. Conversation was general and very lively. The subjects of discussion were spiritualism, ghosts, palmistry, divination, telepathy, the transmigration of souls and sorcery. Nearly every man and woman present told some personal anecdote or incident received from direct tradition. These agitating problems had been warmly debated for two hours already, so after smoking a cigarette I retired, as once a conversation of this kind is in full swing it may last until morning.
Like all primitive races, the Russians are fascinated by the marvellous and have an intense craze for the unknown. The Russian mind takes pleasure in imaginary space only, and has no real interest m anything save the supernatural and invisible, the unreal and monstrous.
If I had to illustrate the fleeting impressions I brought away with me from this room I should give a rough sketch of the only person who said nothing, a lady whose silence greatly struck me, Madame B - -. Twenty-eight years of age at most, and very quietly dressed in black satin, she half sat and half lay on a sofa, cross-legged, and did not move as she listened with a sort of hypnotic intentness. A lamp on a table at her side threw into relief her face with its delicate, irregular features, short nose, strong bony jaw, pale olive cheeks, parted lips, and blue, remote eyes which seemed fixed on some vague and distant vision. Her hands were on the sofa, hanging loose and limp as if they were simply the ends of her arms. Every now and then she shivered slightly. Then she fell back into her state of trance.
Saturday, December 4, 1915.
A serious dispute has arisen between the cabinets of Paris and London on the subject of our military enterprises in the East.
The British Government thinks we have lost the game in the Dardanelles and Macedonia; its conclusion is that we must withdraw our troops as soon as possible, to protect Egypt against an attack in the near future by occupying Northern Syria and the Suez Canal in force. Lord Kitchener is giving these views the full weight of his support.
Briand recognizes that we can serve no useful purpose now by clinging to the Dardanelles; but he will not hear of an expedition to Syria or the evacuation of Salonica. He rightly thinks that, in a war in which attrition is one of the main elements of the ultimate result, we should be making an enormous mistake to lose thousands of men in fighting Arabs and Turks while Germany husbands her own resources with a view to undertaking a decisive operation on the western front at a favourable moment. We will not hear of our abandoning the Salonica expedition. He has commissioned me to win the Russian Government over to his views.
I have just had a long discussion on the matter with Sazonov:
"If we evacuate Salonica," I said, "Greece and Rumania will be without support against German pressure and will immediately take sides against us. The Serbians, seeing themselves abandoned, will lose heart and make their submission to the Teutonic empires. Bulgaria, too, will have no further obstacle to the satisfaction of her territorial appetite: she won't be satisfied with the annexation of Macedonia, but will go further and dismember Serbia. For all these reasons we must hold Salonica even at the cost of the heaviest sacrifices."
Impressed by these arguments, Sazonov told me that he is in agreement with Briand's view and will try and secure its adoption by London.
Senator Doumer, ex-Minister and ex-Governor-General of Indo-China, arrived in Petrograd to-night via Finland, on an official mission.
He has been describing our military situation to me in sombre colours, emphasizing our enormous losses. His conclusion was this:
"To bring our armies up to strength, Russia must let us draw on her immense reserves; she can easily give us 400,000 men; I've come to ask her for them. Their transport must begin on January 10 next."
I immediately pointed out the difficulty of navigation in the White Sea, which is blocked with ice. I also drew his attention to the fact that the estuary of the Dvina is frozen for a hundred kilometres below Archangel. Thus the troops to be embarked will have to march four or five days over the ice in forty degrees of frost and total darkness. It will be necessary to provide a proper line of communications. with barracks, rations, fuel, etc. Lastly there are no ships adapted for use as troop transports. Everything - sleeping arrangements, lighting, heating - will have to be improvised.
"With a little good will all these obstacles will be surmounted," he said.
Other objections occurred to me:
"The man-power question is as critical in Russia as in France: the only difference is that it takes another form. Admittedly the human reservoir is colossal compared with that of France, but Russia does not get the advantage of it. What counts in war is not the capacity of the reservoir, but its effective outflow; it's not the mere number of men, but the total of trained men. In this respect, the Western Powers are much more favourably placed than Russia, where military training is extremely slow because there are few non-commissioned officers and nine-tenths of the recruits cannot read or write. Thus the Russian army has great difficulty in making good its losses, which incidentally are considerably greater than ours. Besides, the moujik is hopeless when he is transplanted, and cannot feel that he has Russian soil under is feet and his isba behind him. He hasn't enough intelligence or education to take in the idea of community of interest which unites the Allies, or to realize that even when he goes to fight in a distant country it is still his own native land that he is defending. With his childish and dreamy mind he will be utterly lost among our energetic, quick-witted and critical races. Lastly, there's a tactical objection which prevents me from contemplating the employment of a Russian contingent in France without misgiving. On the battlefield the Russians attach but small importance to ground. The moment a force finds itself somewhat pressed by the enemy it retires, not through any lack of moral courage, but simply to secure a less exposed situation in rear. Thus, during an action, regiments and batteries can be seen retiring three or four kilometres voluntarily, although their capacity for resistance is still far from exhausted. The higher staffs employ the same manoeuvre on the same scale. Immediately after an unsuccessful operation it is not uncommon to see an army, or even an army group, retreat more than a hundred kilometres. In view of the colossal area of Russia, retreats on this scale are in no way remarkable, and it is the tactics of 1812. But what would they mean in France where every inch of ground is furiously disputed and the Boches are only sixty kilometres from Calais, forty from Amiens, twenty-five from Châlons and eighty from Paris?"
My arguments do not seem to have shaken Doumer. Tenacem proposite virum.... So all I can do is to support him vigorously in his task. This afternoon I introduced him to Goremykin, Sazonov and General Polivanov.
Sunday, December 5, 1915.
No society is so prone to ennui as Russian society: none pays so heavy a tribute to this moral scourge. I notice it every day.
Indolence, lassitude, torpor, bewilderment; weary gestures and yawns; sudden starts and impulses an extraordinary facility for easily tiring of everything an insatiable appetite for change; a perpetual craving for amusement and sensation; gross extravagance; a taste for the freakish, and showy and crazy excesses; a horror of solitude; the perpetual exchange of purposeless visits and pointless telephone calls; fantastic immoderation in religious fervour and good works; facile indulgence in morbid imaginings and gloomy presentiments - all these characteristics of temperament and behaviour are only the manifold manifestations of mental listlessness.
But, in contrast to what occurs in our western societies, Russian ennui strikes me as usually irrational and subconscious. Its victims do not analyse or discuss it. They do not linger, like the disciples of Chateaubriand and Byron, or Senancour and Amiel, to meditate on the incomprehensible mystery of life and the futility of human effort. From their melancholy they do not derive the joy of pride or poetry. Their infirmity is much less intellectual than organic: it is a state of vague unrest and latent, empty gloom.
Monday, December 6, 1915.
To-day I gave a luncheon in Doumer's honour; I invited Sazonov, General Polivanov, Bark, Admiral Grigorovitch, Trepov, Sir George Buchanan and others.
Doumer said on his arrival:
"My negotiations are making wonderful progress. I've had a splendid reception from all the ministers. Here and there I have met with certain objections, but none of them is final and I think my demands are admitted in principle. However, it's for the Tsar alone to decide. He's to receive me to-morrow. I am hoping to settle the matter at once."
While congratulating him, I put him on his guard against the facility with which the Russians seem to acquiesce straight off in everything proposed to them. It is not duplicity on their part. Far from it! But their first impressions are usually inspired by their feelings of sympathy, a desire to please, the fact that they hardly ever have a strong sense of reality, and the receptivity of their minds which makes them extremely impressionable. The mental reaction and the process of resistance and refutation only come a long time afterwards.
My other guests then arrived.
Luncheon was a lively affair. Of course we only talked about the war, in a spirit of perfect confidence and cordiality. Doumer's whole personality breathes courage and energy and it made the best possible impression.
Tuesday, December 7, 1915.
Doumer was presented to the Emperor this morning and had a very kind reception. Nicholas II readily admitted that it is important for the closest collaboration to be established between the French and Russian armies. As regards the actual practical steps to be taken, he has reserved his decision until after a conference he is to have with General Alexeiev in the near future.
One of the most disquieting symptoms at the present moment is the open opposition of the bureaucracy to all the innovations dictated by the war.
It is mainly against the Union of Zemstvos and the Union of Towns that the hostility of the tchinovniks is directed. In vain have these great public bodies made efforts innumerable to co-operate in supplying the armies and civil population, co-ordinating the activities of the industrial committees and co-operative societies, remedying the food shortage, developing the Red Cross services, assisting refugees, etc. The administrative authorities obstruct and oppose everything, of set purpose and design. The Unions are the bête-noire of the bureaucrats because they see in them - not without reason - the germ of provincial and municipal self-government. The Russian bureaucracy seems to have taken as its motto: Let Russia perish, but not my principles! As if it would not be the first to be involved in her fall!
Saturday, December 11, 1915.
I will give certain statistics of the Russian forces
(1) Infantry: The present strength at the front is 1,360,000 men, of whom 160,000 are without rifles.
(2) Artillery: The combatant armies have 3,750 field guns and 250 mountain guns, each piece supplied with 550 rounds. The heavy artillery consists of 650 guns, with a supply of 260 rounds apiece.
(3) Rifles: If the consignments in progress materialize without accident, we may hope that between now and January 15 the Russian armies will receive 400,000 rifles, and 200,000 more in the following month. It will thus have 1,800,000 rifles by the 15th February.
(4) Artillery ammunition: Production is making constant progress. The daily output, which did not exceed 14,000 last May, is now 59,000 it will reach 84,000 by January 15, and 122,000 by March
Sunday, December 12, 1915.
When with Princess G - - for tea to-day, I met B - -, who was in a pessimistic and sarcastic mood:
"This war will end like Boris Godunov," he cried. "You know it, of course? Moussorgsky's opera."
At the mention of Boris Godunov the impressive figure of Shaliapin rose before my eyes: but I tried in vain to grasp the allusion to the present war. B - - continued:
"Don't you remember the two last scenes? Boris, devoured by remorse, has become mad and the victim of hallucinations, and is telling his boyards that he is about to die. He gives orders that a monk's robe is to be brought. in which to bury him, as was then the custom with dying tsars. The bells immediately toll.. candles are lit: priests chant the funeral service. Boris dies. The moment the breath is out of his body the people revolt. The usurper, the false Dimitry, appears on horseback. A yelling crowd follows him to the Kremlin. The only person left on the stage is an aged beggar. an idiot, a yurodivi, who sings: Weep, oh my holy, orthodox Russia; weep, for you are about to be plunged into darkness!"
"That's a cheering prophecy!"
With a bitter, cynical laugh, he replied:
"Oh! We're in for much worse things than that!"
"Worse than in Boris Godunov's time?"
"Yes! ... We shan't even have the usurper; we shall only have the people in revolt and the yurodivi: there'll be lots of yurodivis. We are not behind our ancestors ... in the mysticism line."
The novelist Tchekhov, the discerning author of the Moujiks, described very accurately the Russian trick of adopting an ironical and cynical tone in the face of adversity. He. makes one of his characters - who has been banished to the depths of Siberia - say: "When Fate is unkind to you, despise her, laugh at her Otherwise she will only laugh at you."
Monday, December 13, 1915.
In the last few days our Near East army has suffered a serious reverse on the banks of the Tcherna, an important river of Macedonia which flows through the Monastir district and joins the Vardar. We have now lost our last foothold in Macedonia, and the communiqué of the Bulgarian General Staff unfortunately has the right to run like this:
To the Bulgarian army and nation, December 12, 1915, will always be a memorable date. On that day our army occupied the last three Macedonian towns still in the enemy's hands - Doiran, Guevgheli and Sturga. The last combats with the French, English and Serbians took place on the shores of Lake Doiran and near Ochrida. The enemy has been driven back at all points: Macedonia is free; there is not a single enemy soldier on her soil.
Thursday, December 16, 1915.
"France is letting Russia carry the whole burden of the war." This is a charge I hear repeated from time to time, with a persistence and spontaneity which in themselves would be quite enough to betray a theme of German propaganda.
But, for some time now, I have been observing an ingenious variation on this theme: "France ought to remember how kind the Tsar Alexander III was to her twenty years ago, when she came to beg an alliance with Russia. At that time France had lost all respect in the world; she was isolated, weak and discredited; no one was willing to be associated or linked with her. It was Russia which then raised her up out of the mire by accepting an a alliance with her... ."
Whenever I have an opportunity I immediately refute this calumny, which is an historical error. I have just been thrashing it out, as between friends of course, with certain people whose faith called for enlightenment. The Grand Duke Nicholas Michailovitch was listening to us, and he gave me an approving smile.
France never begged or even asked for an alliance with Russia. In every phase of the negotiations all the approaches came from Russia alone. It was the Tsar Alexander III who initiated the first conversations.
In March, 1891, the ill-timed visit of the Empress Frederick to Paris had produced dangerously strained relations between France and Germany. On March 9 Baron von Mohrenheim, the ambassador in Paris, came to Ribot, who was then Minister for Foreign Affairs, to read him a letter from Giers, which had been written by the Emperor's orders, and told him that "the closest agreement between Russia and France was necessary to the maintenance of a proper balance of power in Europe." Such was the prelude.
The diplomats set to work at once. On August 27 Ribot and Mohrenheim enunciated the principle of the alliance by signing an agreement, by the terms of which France and Russia undertook to confer together on all questions likely to compromise the peace of the world, and the measures which the danger of war might compel the two Governments to adopt in concert. In this spirit the French and Russian General Staffs drew up a military convention which was signed on August 17, 1892, by General de Boisdeffre and General Obrutchev.
But there was then a long hiatus in the negotiations. Before becoming effective the military convention was to be ratified by the two Governments. But when on the point of taking the final step, Alexander III seemed to hesitate. The Panama affair had just opened an era of notorious scandals in France. The whole of monarchical Europe rejoiced to see us thus exhibiting our social sores. To make things worse, at the Palais Bourbon the ministers were tearing each other to pieces; our political structure seemed in the throes of disintegration. To an autocratic tsar it was a serious step to contract a marriage with so turbulent and discredited a republic. Alexander III decided to play for time. Nothing more was said about an alliance. Months passed.
However, this situation could not continue indefinitely. On December 5, 1893, Casimir-Perier, who had just become President of the Council and Minister for Foreign Affairs, came to the conclusion that the interests and dignity of France could not allow him to wait for Russia's decision any longer. I was then his chef de cabinet, and I remember how the fibre of national pride stirred in him when I communicated the contents of the file to him. With his straightforward and downright temperament, he would not hear of negotiations of such importance remaining in abeyance for sixteen months, and he kept on saying: "I'm not going to let anyone treat me like that. If the Tsar doesn't want our alliance now, let him say so! We'll look out for allies elsewhere ......" He immediately sent for our ambassador, the Comte de Montebello, who was then in Paris on a leave which was about to expire. I was present during their conversation. Casimir-Perier was very peremptory:
"The moment you get back to Petrograd you will ask an audience of the Emperor and induce him to declare himself. I'll allow you all the discretion you think necessary as to the terms you use; but I must have a clear and definite answer."
Montebello, the incarnation of experience and cool wisdom, explained that he was absolutely sure of the friendly feelings of Alexander III towards us, and that it would be a grievous error to appear to doubt them. He added that he should regard it as highly advantageous for the future if Russia took the initiative in bringing the negotiations to a conclusion, just as she had brought about the first conversations in March, 1891: "In that way no one could ever say that we have asked for anything." Casimir-Perier yielded to the force of this argument.
The moment he returned, Montebello asked an audience of the Emperor. As usual, the sovereign gave him the kindest of receptions; but Alexander III made no allusion whatever to the scheme for an alliance. Montebello adhered firmly to his waiting policy. In Paris, Casimir-Perier's nerves were on edge. His pleasure was all the greater when, on January 1, 1894, a telegram told him that the Emperor on his own initiative had ordered his Foreign Minister, Giers, to ratify the military convention. When sending us the formal ratifications on January 8, Montebello could repeat, and with justice, his previous phrase: "So no one can ever say we have asked for anything."
Tuesday, December 21, 1915.
I commented recently on the important part which mystical communities play in the religious life of the Russian nation. I will give certain details about one of them, the sect of the Skoptzy, or "self-mutilators," which is one of the most curious and ineradicable.
It professes the same spiritualistic doctrines as the Khlisty; but whereas the "flagellants" try to subdue the flesh by exhausting it, the Skoptzy get rid of sexual sin once and for all by physical mutilation.
The founder of the sect was a humble moujik, Andrew Ivanovitch, who was born about 1730 near Orel. On his simple and harassed soul certain words of Christ had produced an extraordinary impression: There are eunuchs who are born such in their mother's womb: others there are who have become such by the act of man; but there are also those who have made themselves eunuchs with their own hand so that they may enter the Kingdom of Heaven (1) .
Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire (2) . . Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck (3) .
Andrew Ivanovitch was so intensely impressed by these words, and regarded them as so plain an assurance of salvation, that he deprived himself with his own hand of the means of satisfying the accursed needs of the flesh in future.
As there is no aberration which is not contagious to the Slav mind, the new eunuch immediately found twelve disciples whom he castrated in the name of Christ and the Holy Spirit. One of them, Kondrati Selivanov, who had a remarkable gift of persuasive eloquence, made himself the apostle of this creed. He saw confirmation of the precepts of the gospel in the divine promises transmitted to us by the prophet Isaiah: For thus saith the Lord unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.(4)
He went from town to town, Tambov, Tula, Riazan, Moscow, preaching the necessity of escaping the devilish snares of the flesh by a physical sacrifice. Everywhere he made converts. His propaganda soon assumed such proportions that the Government had the heretics arrested, and in 1774 sent them to the penal settlement at Irkutsk.
Andrew Ivanovitch died shortly afterwards, leaving nothing but a dim tradition behind him. For Selivanov, on the other hand, a period of prodigious and legendary activity began. A rumour spread that he was the Saviour himself, the actual reincarnation of Jesus Christ. There was also another legend: it was alleged that the Tsar Peter III had secretly escaped the blows of his assassins and was going about disguised under the armiak of the convict mystic. In dark corners of churches and monasteries an even more extraordinary story was whispered. The unhappy Peter Feodorovitch was not the son of Anna Petrovna: through the intervention of the Holy Spirit he had been miraculously conceived in the womb of his aunt, the Empress Elizabeth, who had always been a virgin notwithstanding all the notorious facts which seemed to indicate the contrary. A devotee of chastity, it was only with the most intense reluctance that he had consented to enter into the sacrament of marriage. The test had been too much for his strength. The moment his son Paul was born, he had castrated himself to escape the amorous fury of his wife, Catherine, who, in her disappointed rage, had had him assassinated. This fantastic story came to the ears of Paul I: his mind was already unhinged and it received a terrible shock. He was anxious to know Selivanov, and gave orders that he was to be brought back from Siberia at once. The murder on the night of March 23, 1801, prevented the meeting between the two madmen. But Alexander I returned to his father's scheme; he had a long talk with the Skopetz, showed him the greatest kindness and found him a place of refuge. Subsequently, Madame de Krudener occasionally consulted the holy eunuch. The sect then passed through great days: among its neophytes could be found boyards, high officials, officers of the Court and society women.
Yet for all his sympathy with the Christ-Skopetz, the Emperor Alexander soon found himself compelled to take repressive measures. In 1820 Selivanov was confined in the ecclesiastical prison of the monastery of Saint Euphemius at Suzdal. The detailed and repeated instructions of the Minister of the Interior, Count Kotchubey, prescribed that the prisoner was to be subjected to a regime of the greatest secrecy; all correspondence was forbidden; no one was allowed to see him except three guards selected expressly for their fidelity; he was not permitted to borrow books or have paper, ink or a pen; his name must never be uttered. On the registers and in official reports he was described simply as "the old man." But notwithstanding all these precautions his disciples succeeded in discovering his retreat and attempted several times, but in vain, to get a message of hope through to him. Selivanov suffered this harsh treatment up to the last moment of his life; he died in 1837.
In the reign of Nicholas II the police took measures of the greatest severity against the Skoptzy. They were persecuted in every possible way - publicly whipped, confined in the penitentiary monasteries of Saint Prilutsk at Vologda, Troïtzky, Selengisky near Lake Baïkal, and Solovietzky in the middle of the White Sea, enrolled in the disciplinary companies in the Caucasus, deported to the depths of Eastern Siberia, condemned to work in the mines in the Urals. It was all in vain. The halo of martyrdom made an apostle of every victim. To their terrible heresy they converted the prisoners, convicts, deportees, and even the monks among whom they were compelled to live.
In the years which followed the abolition of serfdom the imperial police gradually relaxed their severity towards the Skoptzy. They only intervened in particularly scandalous cases, such as when the self-mutilators used .force towards young persons or the operation had fatal results,
Since that time nothing much has been heard of the sect. The number of its adherents is reckoned at a few thousand. They are to be found mainly in the region of Moscow, Orel, Tula and the Southern Ukraine. The centre of their faith and propaganda, their mystical Jerusalem, is Sosnova, between Tambov and Morchansk.
The physical act by which adherence to the sect is signified dominates and summarizes the whole religious life of the Skoptzy. Their spiritual and liturgical hierarchy is regulated solely by the importance of physical mutilations. The "brothers" and "sisters" who have consented to the complete removal of the organs, and thus destroyed "all the receptacles of the Devil," physically speaking, are styled "white lambs" and "white doves"; their flesh, purified once and for all, is glorified in bearing the "great imperial seal." The half-hearted among them, those who have only consented to a partial operation, continue to remain exposed to certain attacks of the demon and bear only the "minor seal" on the scars of their imperfect lesions.
It is a principle with the Skoptzy to assemble at night, "in imitation of Our Lord Jesus Christ who always waited until nightfall when he wished to pray." Men and women, "brothers and sisters," are dressed in white. The ceremony begins with circular and very rapid dances, which are continued until the dancers' strength gives out, so that there may be no insidious resurrection of the beast, however weak and humbled he may be already. Then hymns and psalms are sung and the praises and sufferings of Selivanov the Martyr are celebrated in litanies interminable. The proceedings end with the participants giving each other the holy eucharist with pieces of white bread marked with a cross.
In the realm of ordinary life the fanatical spiritualism of the Skoptzy degenerates very curiously. When their veil of religious exaltation is dropped these ascetics reveal themselves as the most practical and self-interested of men. They have a passion for money and a remarkable flair for business and banking. In commercial houses they are welcomed as accountants and cashiers. Almost all the rest devote themselves to stock-broking, credit operations and money-lending. Their greed makes them suspicious and cunning.
Away from their mystical assemblies they seem to have no foretaste of the eternal blessedness for which they have paid so dearly. Their faces are always gloomy and hard. In seizing "the keys of Hell" and "the keys of the abyss," they have dried up the milk of human kindness. One suspects, too, that there is a vein of cruelty in these "white lambs." The way in which they convert young men and women into "little lambs" sometimes culminates in monstrous refinements of moral and physical torture.
Saturday, December 18, 1915.
Doumer left Petrograd this morning by the Finland station.
As might have been expected, his negotiations have met with all sorts of obstacles in the practical line. General Alexeiev strongly opposes the idea of sending 400,000 men to France, even in successive relays of 40,000 spread over ten months. In addition to almost insurmountable transport difficulties, he has pointed out that the number of trained reserves at the disposal of the Russian armies is utterly inadequate, having regard to the enormous fronts. This argument convinced the Emperor. But by way of giving proof of good will, the imperial government has decided to experiment by dispatching one infantry brigade, which will be sent via Archangel as soon as the Admiralty is able to clear a way for it through the White Sea.
Tuesday, December 21, 1915.
As I had to leave a card on the Governor of the Nicholas Cavalry School, which is far away in the Narva quarter, near the Obvodny Canal, I indulged my curiosity on the way back by crossing Semenovsky Square, one end of which abuts on this canal behind the Tsarskoe Selo station.
Under the low and leaden sky, from which a livid light descended, the square, with its ring of yellow barracks and its sheet of muddy snow and frozen pools, looked lamentably dirty, melancholy and sinister. It was the very scene to recall the pathetic spectacle of which this square was the theatre, on a day such as this, on December 22, 1849.
At that time proceedings had been taken "for reasons of State" against a group of young socialists and their leader, Petrachevsky; they had been confined in the fortress, and after an interminable enquiry condemned to death without any proof. Dostoïevsky was among the twenty thus found guilty. One of them had gone mad in prison.
On the morning of December 22, they were brought out of the prison and put into carriages. The trial had only ended on the previous day and they did not yet know their sentences. After a half-hour's journey they got out in Semenovsky Square. Before their horrified eyes stood a scaffold and twenty posts. A large cart, containing coffins, arrived simultaneously. They ascended the scaffold. The clerk of the court then read them the sentence, word by word. Dostoïevsky, turning to one of his neighbours, murmured: "I can't believe we are going to die!" Then the priest recited the final prayers and offered the crucifix to the condemned men. Four soldiers lined up opposite each post. They levelled their rifles. But suddenly trumpets sounded and in a loud voice the clerk proclaimed: "His Majesty the Emperor has deigned to commute your sentences!"
Next morning Dostoïevsky and his companions, loaded with chains, left for Siberia.
All through his life the author of The House of the Dead retained the most terrible memories of this mournful scene. Twenty years later, he made Prince Myschkin say in The Idiot: "There are things worse than torture, for physical pain distracts our attention from mental pain.... The most terrible torture is not wounds of the flesh, but the absolute certainty that within one hour, within ten minutes, within one second, your spirit will have left your body and you will be nothing but a corpse.... Who is there bold enough to claim that human nature is capable of enduring a thing like that without going mad? There may be men who have heard their death sentence read out, men who have been left in the agony of expectation and then been told: 'Go away! You are pardoned!' Such men should tell us their feelings. Christ Himself has spoken of these horrors and that terrible apprehension."
Saturday, December 25, 1915.
During last week the Tsarevitch, who was accompanying his father on a tour of inspection in Galicia, was seized with violent nasal hæmorrhage, which was soon complicated by prolonged fainting fits.
The imperial train immediately returned in the direction of Mohilev, where treatment would have been easier. But as the invalid's strength was rapidly giving out, the Emperor ordered the train to proceed to Tsarskoe Selo.
Since the terrible crisis through which Alexis Nicolaïevitch passed in 1912, he has never had so severe an attack of his hæmophylia. Twice he was given up for lost.
When the Empress received the dreadful news, her first concern was to send for Rasputin. She poured out her whole soul to him on her child's behalf. The staretz immediately bowed his head in prayer. After a short supplication he said, with a proud ring in his voice:
"Thanks be to God! He has given me your son's life once more...."
The following day, December 18, the train reached Tsarskoe Selo, during the morning. Early that morning the Tsarevitch's condition had suddenly improved, the fever abated, his heart beat more strongly and the hæmorrhage became less rapid. By the evening of that day the nasal wound had healed over.
How could the Empress fail to believe in Rasputin?
Monday, December 27, 1915.
In the course of a very personal talk with Sazonov I referred to the many symptoms of war-weariness I have observed among the public in all quarters.
"Only yesterday," I said, "not two feet away from me, I heard one of the highest functionaries at Court, a man who is often in the closest touch with the Emperor, say out loud in the club that to continue the war is madness, and we must lose no time in making peace."
Sazonov shrugged his shoulders indignantly. Then he smiled pleasantly and said:
"I'll tell you a story which will make you forget yesterday's unpleasant impressions at once; it will show you that the Emperor is as determined against Germany as ever.... Here's my tale. For more than thirty years our old Minister of the Court, Fredericks, has been on terms of the closest intimacy with Count Eulenburg, who is Grand Marshal of the Court in Berlin. Their careers have been identical; they held the same posts and received the same honours almost simultaneously. The similarity of their functions has put them in possession of all the private and secret relations and affairs between the German and Russian Courts. Political missions. personal correspondence between the sovereigns, matrimonial negotiations, family matters, the exchange of presents and decorations, royal scandals. morganatic alliances - they have known and been concerned in all of them.
"Three weeks ago, Fredericks received from Eulenburg a letter brought from Berlin by an unknown emissary who posted it in Petrograd, as the stamp on the envelope shows. The letter ran as follows:
Our duty to God and our respective sovereigns and countries should compel you and me to do everything in our power to bring about a reconciliation between our two Emperors, a reconciliation which would enable their Governments to find the basis for an honourable peace. If we succeeded in restoring their old friendship I have no doubt that we should at once see the end of this terrible war, etc.
"Fredericks immediately gave the letter to His Majesty, who sent for me and asked my advice. I replied that Eulenburg could not have taken such a step without express orders from his sovereign, so that now we had incontrovertible proof of the importance Germany attaches to separating Russia from her allies. The Emperor was convinced and replied: 'Eulenburg does not seem to suspect that he is recommending me nothing less than moral and political suicide, the humiliation of Russia and the sacrifice of my honour. At the same time the matter is intriguing enough to be worth a little more thought. Please consider some form of answer and bring it me to-morrow.'
"Before giving me the letter he read it again, this time aloud. Then he underlined in blue pencil the words their old friendship, and wrote in the margin: That friendship is dead. I never want to hear it mentioned again! The next day I submitted to His Majesty a draft reply, the substance of which was as follows: If your desire to work for the return of peace is sincere, get the Emperor William's authority to make the same suggestion to the four allies. Negotiations are impossible otherwise. Without even glancing at my draft, the Emperor remarked: 'I've been considering the matter since yesterday. Any reply, however discouraging, would risk being interpreted as a consent to enter into correspondence. So Eulenburg's letter will not be answered.'"
1 told Sazonov how delighted I was:
"It was the only course to take. I'm glad that the Emperor realized it intuitively; I expected nothing less from his loyal character. In refusing to reply at all he showed himself the perfect ally. When you see him, oblige me by offering him my congratulations and thanks."
Tuesday, December 28, 1915.
Before my present period of residence in Russia, the only Russians I had ever met were diplomats and cosmopolitans, in other words minds which were more or less saturated with Westernism and more or less trained to Western. logic and methods. How different the Russian mind looks when it is seen in its natural surroundings and its own climate!
During the two years I have been living in Petrograd, the feature which has struck me most in my conversations with politicians, soldiers, men in high society, civil servants, journalists, financiers, industrialists and teachers is the vague, fluid and inconsistent character of their notions and schemes. There is always a lack of co-ordination or continuity somewhere. The relationship between facts and ideas is hazy; calculations are merely approximate and perspectives blurred and uncertain. How many mishaps and miscalculations in this war are explained by the fact that the Russians see reality only through a mist of dreams, and never have precise notions of time or space! Their imagination is eminently dispersive; it rejoices in naught but hazy and shifting visions, vague and inorganic conceptions. Hence the great emotional effect which music has on them.
Wednesday, December 29, 1915.
Following up his idea of helping the Serbians indirectly by a diversion in Galicia, the Tsar has just embarked on an offensive on the Bessarabian front and east of the Strypa, in the direction of Lemberg. Stubborn fighting, in which the Russians seem to have recovered all their dash, is in progress at Toporovec, near Czernovitz, Buczacz on the Strypa and Trembovlia near Tarnopol.
Simultaneously, the army of Volhynia is attacking the Austro-Germans on the Styr, south of the Pinsk marshes, and in the region of Rovno and Csartorysk.
Thursday, December 30, 1915.
The salons of Petrograd are in a state of great excitement. Their habitués are talking under their breath of a political scandal in which members of the imperial family and a maid-of-honour, Marie Vassiltchikov, are said to be involved; it is alleged that there have been secret communications with German sovereigns.
Certain circumstantial details which I have been able to check have shown me that the matter is to be taken seriously, so I have questioned Sazonov, who gave me the following reply:--
Mlle. Marie Alexandrovna Vassiltchikov, a lady of fifty or so, cousin of Prince Sergei llarianovitch Vassiltchikov, related to the Urussovs, Volkonskys, Orlov-Davidovs, Mestcherskys, etc., maid-of-honour to the Empresses, was staying in a villa at Semmering, near Vienna, when the war broke out. It was there that she usually resided, in close and constant touch with all the Austrian aristocracy. The cottage in Semmering which she made her home belongs to Prince Francis of Lichstenstein, who was Austrian Ambassador to St. Petersburg about the year 1899. At the opening of hostilities she was confined to her villa, where she certainly received the visits of a large number of people.
A few weeks ago the Grand Duke of Hesse asked her to come to Darmstadt and sent her a safe-conduct. She went at once, as she is on terms of the closest friendship with the Grand Duke Ernest Louis and his sisters(5) and likes nothing better than meddling and intrigue.
At Darmstadt the Grand Duke asked her to go to Petrograd to advise the Tsar to make peace without delay; he said that the Emperor William is ready to concede Russia very favourable terms, and even insinuated that England has already made overtures for a separate understanding to the Berlin chancellery. He wound up by remarking that a reconciliation between Russia and Germany is necessary to the maintenance of the dynastic principle in Europe.
He could certainly have made no choice better than Marie Alexandrovna, whose imagination was on fire at once. She already saw herself reconstituting the holy alliances of old, thus saving tsarism and simultaneously bringing back peace to the world.
To be even more explicit the Grand Duke dictated in English all he had just told her, and there and then she translated this document into French; it was intended for Sazonov's hands. The Grand Duke then gave Marie Alexandrovna two autograph letters, one for the Emperor and the other for the Empress. The first merely recapitulated in friendly and insistent terms the note destined for Sazonov. The second letter, in an even more affectionate tone, appealed to the Empress's deepest feelings and recalled all the memories of her family and youth; the last sentence ran as follows: "I know what a thorough Russian you have become, but I cannot think that every trace of Germany has been effaced from your heart." Neither letter was sealed up, so that Sazonov might read them when he read the note.
Next morning Mlle. Vassiltchikov, furnished with a German passport, left for Petrograd via Berlin, Copenhagen and Stockholm.
The moment she arrived she called on Sazonov who was highly surprised and received her at once. When she gave him the note and the two letters he expressed his indignant astonishment that she had undertaken to carry such messages. This reception, which reversed all her anticipations and destroyed the whole fabric of her dreams, reduced her to a condition of dumb consternation.
The same evening Sazonov was at Tsarskoe Selo and made his report to his sovereign. The moment the first words were uttered the Emperor's features contracted with impatient irritation. He snatched the two letters and contemptuously threw them on his table without reading them. Then, in an angry voice, he said:
"Show me the note!"
At each sentence he burst out angrily: "What an insult to make such proposals to me! How could this silly intrigante dare to bring them! ... All this stuff is just a tissue of lies and treachery ... England preparing to betray Russia! How absurd!"
When he had read it through and relieved his feelings he asked:
"What are we going to do with the Vassiltchikov woman? Do you know what her plans are?"
"She told me she expected to return to Semmering at once."
"Oh, indeed! So she thinks I'm going to let her return to Austria! No, she'll never leave Russia again. I'll have her interned on her estates or shut up in a convent: I'll look into the matter with the Minister of the Interior to-morrow."
Friday, December 31, 1915.
To everyone with whom he has been in contact these last few days the Emperor has spoken in terms of the greatest severity and annoyance on the subject of Marie Alexandrovna Vassiltchikov:
"To accept such a commission from an enemy sovereign! This woman is either wicked or a fool. How could she fail to realize that in carrying these letters she ran the risk of seriously compromising the Empress and myself?" ...
On his orders, Marie Alexandrovna Vassiltchikov was arrested yesterday and taken to Tchernigov to be interned in a convent.
5. The sisters are (1) Princess Victoria, born in 1863 and married to Prince Louis of Battenberg; (2) Princess Elizabeth, born in 1864 and widow of the Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich; (3) Princess Irene, born in 1866 and married to Prince Henry of Prussia, brother of the Emperor William; (4) the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna.