Statesmen of the War in Retrospect
I SAW HIM LAST AS HE STOOD ON THE BALCONY OF THE palace at Berlin, silhouetted darkly against the brilliant light from the room behind him. In the eyes of the immense crowd which was cheering him he was the Fatherland. It was the eve of the War then and there were many heavy hearts and anxious minds. To-day, to while away the long hours of his exile on the Isle of Doorn, William II saws, as he would in a prison yard.
What will be the verdict of history on this man who entered life to the sound of bells and a people's cheering, and who is ending his days bent in sorrow under the low gray sky of Holland?
Before one can judge, one must understand, and that is no easy task. "How," as a clever woman has said, "can we put ourselves in the place of a man whose cradle and baby shoes are museum exhibits?" Kings from the moment of their birth are set apart from the people. Everything conspires to isolate them, their education, their interests, their ideas, their feelings, their scale of values, and to judge them by the usual standards would be unfair.
William II was no exception to this rule---quite the contrary. His childhood was hard, destitute of all real affection. His mother did not love him, his tutors did not understand him. Deformed from birth, he had to learn after much physical and moral suffering to disguise his infirmity. Had he been a private citizen he would have been exempted from military service: instead, he was to become the foremost soldier of his empire. Emil Ludwig, who has painted a masterly portrait of the Emperor, attributes all his love of pomp and display and popular applause to the fact that his education was directed wholly to things external. We enjoy only what we win by an effort, and all his life William II sought the limelight in order to conceal his suffering. It was always his desire to appear other than he was and to convince the world that he was other than it saw him.
Popular applause more than any other thing perverts the minds of royal children. It is said that on the day when he took the oath the young King Michael of Roumania was frightened when he saw the Deputies---grave, serious old gentlemen---shouting hurrah. His Majesty burst out sobbing and took refuge behind his mother's skirts.
William II, however, had no fear of popular applause. On the contrary, all his life he has sought it, and it has turned his head.
For a proper appreciation of the character of William II we must turn to the pages which Treitschke, the historian of the great German empire, devotes to Frederick William IV, King of Prussia, against whom the revolution of 1848 broke out. The picture he gives there reveals curious points of resemblance between the great-uncle and the nephew. Neurotics both of them, unstable, impulsive, superficially clever, workers but lacking in application, possessed of a lively curiosity, catholic tastes, versatile talents, natural eloquence, but lacking in good sense and with a strong leaning to superstition, these two men might have been brothers. The mystical orations of William II, his imperative need to have friends and unbosom himself to them, then cast them off, his romantic love of his people and his mediæval conception of royalty---all this recalls the monarch who in a flash of intuition would put his trust in Bismarck, but who was perpetually vacillating between his ministers and his friends, pitting the one against the other.
If through many years no one in Germany dared to point this out, it was because Frederick William died insane . . .
No one who has not seen William II in the zenith of his splendor can appreciate what the fever of excitability can really mean. His car would dash along the streets preceded by a trumpet blast of the opening notes of "Die Meistersinger." He was seen everywhere. He changed his dress ten times a day. There was no ceremony he did not attend. Not a year passed but William II spent two hundred days of it in traveling, and in seventeen years he delivered five hundred and seventy-seven public speeches, that is, one every eleven days. To hold forth, to hear himself speak, and to see the multitude hanging on his words, was his ruling passion. He was a painter, he was a sculptor, he composed operas and staged them. He could always find people to praise him, although he was notoriously lacking in talent. Besides, his taste was bad. I remember seeing him one day when he was visiting an exhibition of paintings. As soon as His Majesty was announced all the other visitors flattened themselves against the wall and effaced themselves. William II swept through the rooms at full speed. He did not stop even at the pictures that took his fancy---he only indicated them by an abrupt gesture, which was the signal for one of his suite to rush forward and stick on a label bearing the words "Bought by His Majesty the Emperor." When he had left and the ordinary visitor could venture to walk round again, I saw that he had bought all the worst daubs in the exhibition.
His intelligence was superior to his taste. As a rule, those who met him for the first time were surprised at the knowledge he showed of their own particular sphere. Having made a point of finding out beforehand what the special interest of his visitor was, he primed himself specially so that they might be struck dumb with amazement. He almost always succeeded. His arm was too short, his voice guttural, and his eye steely, but when he wished he could be amiable and even charming--and he generally did wish it when he met people whom he knew to be prejudiced against him, particularly the French, and he won over a considerable number of people in that way.
William II had a clear conception of what a modern state should be. His efforts to assist the industrial development of his country, his wish to found a colonial empire and a powerful fleet gave evidence of a practical mind. Although he cannot claim all the credit for the extraordinary economic advance which Germany made in his reign, it must be conceded that he did nothing to hinder it, and even assisted it to some extent.
Material prosperity diverted the mind of the German people from political interests. When a country begins to develop, when it sees its industries, its foreign trade, its power and its prestige increase hour by hour, it does not bother to call its government to account. Bismarck had created the empire on the basis of universal suffrage, but, by reason of her industrial development, Germany had between 1870 and 1914 become changed out of all recognition. Under William II the empire had become a dictatorial and almost autocratic monarchy in which popular control had no part and the Emperor was all that counted.
Unfortunately, William II was not equal to the task which he had set himself. Although on every possible occasion he affirmed his omnipotence and the divine nature of his power, his will was vacillating and weak. He was impulsive and wayward. At the very moment when he assumed the supreme power he let it slip from his hands into those of his irresponsible nominees.
From this there followed two very serious consequences which appear to be paradoxical and yet count among the causes of the War: one was the instability of the government and the other the subordination of the civil power.
Stability and continuity of power are the great theoretical advantages which can be cited in favor of a monarchy. They are assured from one generation to another by family traditions and, in the course of any single reign, by the personality of the sovereign. Unfortunately these two forms of political continuity were both lacking in the Germany of William II.
Misunderstanding and jealousy bet ween father and son were traditional in the house of Hohenzollern---witness the quarrels between Frederick the Great and his father. William II was no exception to this rule, either in his relations with his father or with his son.
Granted that he suffered injustice at the hands of his parents, it is nevertheless true that on the death of the Emperor Frederick after long suffering from a cruel malady, William II displayed indecent haste in his anxiety to fill the rôle of Emperor and to throw overboard all his father's ideas.
A bad son will never make a good father. Years afterwards, the Crown Prince was to show him that. Many a time in pre-war Berlin he became the center of the opposition. He had to be sent away in disgrace to a garrison in North Germany, and it is said that once at Headquarters during the War, while the Emperor was expressing ideas that were distasteful to his son, the latter turned to his neighbor at table and remarked in almost audible tones, "The old man's getting more gaga than ever!"
Just as Germany did not know what it was to have a monarchy that continued from generation to generation, so, during the reign of William II, she did not know what it was to have continuity of government. He had no sooner ascended the throne than his most urgent thought was to dismiss the Iron Chancellor (now an old man), the founder of the empire, and faithful friend of William I---Bismarck. He seemed determined to prove the truth of Bismarck's deadly remark to Bratiano at the Congress of Berlin: "Remember, Bratiano, that all the Hohenzollerns are fools, coxcombs, and ingrates!"
It must be admitted that on the question over which they parted the Emperor was in the right, for he could grasp the new political realities better than the old Chancellor. At the beginning of his reign he was bent on being the Emperor of the oppressed and the disinherited, Emperor of the Catholics and the Socialists whom Bismarck persecuted---Emperor of the workers. But that whim passed. Variable as he always was, William II tired of a rôle which did not bring quickly enough the popularity for which he thirsted. Once Bismarck was gone he had to be replaced. That was the first misguided step which led the Emperor and his empire on the fatal path to ruin.
William II was lacking in the quality which had enabled his ancestors to create Prussia and enlarge it, namely, the ability to choose wise counsellors, to trust them and keep them. The whole greatness of William I lay in his fidelity to Bismarck. William II could never remain faithful. He loved to have some one to confide in---and change that some one often. In the course of his reign he had seven different chancellors and at least four different ministers per year.
Fickleness was perhaps not the worst of it. He surrounded himself with second-rate personalities. He loved to shine, and could not bear to be put in the shade by his advisers. When his ministers had audience with him it was he alone who spoke, and he had no friendly eye for those who tried to explain things to him. This is shown by the story of his treatment of Pozadowsky, Minister for Home Affairs. This minister had the lamentable habit of explaining the business of his department to the Emperor, and the latter used to amuse himself by sending his favorite dog to and fro between the minister's legs to distract and confuse him.
These caprices, which were smiled upon for a time, were destined to have tragic consequences for the empire and the world.
Bismarck had fashioned the constitution of the German empire according to his own ideas. He had instituted between the civil and the military power an unstable equilibrium which depended for its maintenance on two conditions, namely, a strong personality in the post of chancellor and a man of well-balanced judgment and good sense on the throne. The Emperor was to hold the balance between his counsellors.
These conditions obtained during the lifetime of William I, Bismarck, and the aged Moltke. But under William II the whole edifice tumbled to the ground. The civil power fell into weak hands---an inexperienced general, a weak-willed aristocrat, an unscrupulous diplomat, and a hide-bound bureaucrat. The ministers, at the mercy of court cabals, the intrigues of their colleagues, and the caprices of the Emperor, had not even the security of parliamentary ministers who depend on public opinion. Never was there a government so divided against itself, a government in which, though strong to outward seeming, the ministers spied on each other, were envious of each other, and were often not even on speaking terms.
Between a weak and disunited civil power, and a military power that was upheld by all the traditions of the monarchy and the state, William II was not content to play the rôle assigned him by the constitution. He did not know how to play it, and instead of being the arbiter between the rival powers he supplanted them both.
In a book of memoirs, one of the sailors of the imperial yacht tells that William II always wished to sail the boat himself and to take the tiller, but as he was incompetent and there was cause to fear a mishap, a false tiller was made that he could handle as he liked, while the boat was really sailed, secretly, by the pilot.
It is the same picture in the German monarchy, where William II seemed to be everything, though the state was managed, under his name, by anonymous figures.
In the domain of home affairs William II was acutely intuitive, but in diplomacy he was impulsive and romantic. He never had any broad and reasoned views on the European situation, nor had he sufficient sense to listen to his advisers.
William II---and it is a right royal eccentricity---regarded Europe as a garden plot and politics as a family affair, with the result that in dealing with his cousins on the thrones of England, Russia, Austria, Hungary and Italy, he completely lost sight of the peoples they represented and whose fate was in the balance. He never had any conception of the actual forces which were clashing with each other. He was carrying out, even in this twentieth century, a purely dynastic policy. The solidarity of thrones and the rivalry between kingdoms constituted his whole political creed. His distrust of England, which was the ruling idea of his reign, dated from certain slights received in his childhood at Buckingham Palace or Osborne. The fear of seeming inferior to his grandmother and of being baited by his uncle drove out all other ideas from his mind. On the eve of war, he thought he was the savior of the world when he telegraphed to Petrograd, and when the answer of "Nicky" came in somewhat unexpected terms he took it as a personal insult. Never before has megalomania made such deadly ravages in a human mind.
The idea of a Germany hemmed in by wicked cousins, and the necessity of breaking through some day, began to implant itself in his mind between, 1906 and 1909, and, as often happens, fiction began to usurp the place of truth. But it was not until 1913 that peace was threatened by it. A double celebration was due to fall that year: the centenary of the deliverance of Germany from the yoke of Napoleon, and the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Emperor's accession. Besides, there was the marriage of the Emperor's only daughter. Throughout the year festivities, ceremonies, speeches and functions came one after another. In the spring M. Jules Cambon, the French Ambassador, a man who had time and opportunity to size up William II and who knew him well, said prophetically: "You will see that by the end of the year the Emperor will believe that it was he who won the battle of Leipzig!"
That in fact is what happened: all this incense of adulation went to his head. All intelligent observers have stated that the Emperor, whose ambitions had hitherto been peaceful, changed fundamentally at this time. He conceived a taste for martial glory and began to accustom himself to the idea of war. His resistance to the militarists and the industrialists who wanted him to take the risk of war began to weaken. It might be said that about the New Year of 1914 the fate of Europe and of millions of young men was determined.
Things were at this stage when there came the crisis of July, 1914. At first William II does not appear to have realized the full gravity of the situation. He goes off cheerfully for a holiday and complains in his memoirs of not having been kept apprised of what was going on. It was because he was distrusted at Berlin. The army and the civil heads and all his advisers felt they were on holiday when he was away. The one section hoped that his absence would make a settlement possible and the others thought he might be more easily persuaded that he was being attacked if he was not present at the negotiations. Both were agreed that he must be kept quiet and advised him to remain where he was. To return to Berlin in spite of them required an effort on the part of the Emperor.
On his return to Potsdam, Europe was already in a hopeless situation. But it is by no means certain that the decisions which it fell to William II to make would appear as harsh to him then as subsequent events have shown them to be. What was it that he had to do! He was to prevent France, England and Russia from drawing a diplomatic and economic net round Germany. To do this one threatening gesture was enough. The history of 1908 and 1911 would repeat itself, order would be restored at once and the whole world would see how great the power of Germany was. Russia would hasten to renew her commercial treaty: France would cease to increase her army, and England her fleet. The Triple Entente would be broken and the balance of power reversed. Without firing a single shot the German army would have secured the economic and diplomatic domination of Europe.
Such was the program on which William II was to rely ---at least if he had one at all. War was a risk that had to be faced, but it would not occur. It was in that sense that the Emperor could go on repeating during the War, "I never wished it"; but "it" was the deadly consequence of what he had wished.
The German emperor entered into the War "with a light heart," as Emile Ollivier would have said. The whole efforts of his staff during the last eight days of July, 1914, were to persuade him that he was being attacked by Russia and he must go to war in the defense of his country and his honor. All the tissue of faked evidence, the story of the Russian mobilization, the Nuremberg aeroplanes, the violation of frontiers ---these were thought to be aimed at the deception of the German people and the world at large. What a mistake! It was William II whom they were meant to deceive, and they succeeded.
Then there came the War. Henceforward the role of William II was ended. The Emperor was the first to go under in the whirlpool which resulted. At the very hour when the autocracy of which he had dreamed was to become a reality all his will evaporated. It was Germany's tragedy when the monarchy was constitutional to have an autocrat, and to be without one when autocracy was needed. Constitutionally, he was commander-in-chief of the army and the fleet---the "War Lord" of his speeches and of the German communiqués. The great fear of the German militarists had always been that he would take his rôle seriously and interfere in operations. He was known to be without ability and it was thought that he might embarrass the Staff. That was not the case. William II on this occasion showed more sense than at any other time in his career. He completely effaced himself, and all the more honor to him when we think of the incapacity of Moltke, the moral worthlessness of Falkenhayn and the noisy popularity of Hindenburg, which totally eclipsed that of the "War Lord."
The life that William II led was a life made up of railway journeys between Potsdam and the army Headquarters. At Potsdam he felt himself removed from everything, for policy was determined at Headquarters. In the palace the atmosphere was oppressive.
The life of William II had always been void of any feminine affection. His mother neglected him. His wife, whom he had married for political reasons, was too much his intellectual inferior to be able to wield the least influence over him. He never knew either the delights of clandestine adventures or the comfort of a home. The War had accentuated the pietist tendencies of the Empress and she had purged the court of all its youthful elements. William II was surrounded by solemn old men, whose company soon became unbearable to one so full of life.
Only his daughter-in-law, the Crown Princess, was able to amuse him, all the more so because they were linked by an equal contempt for the Crown Prince!
What could one do at Potsdam? Everything William II cared for---travel, hunting, ceremony, receptions--- was forthwith prohibited. After some time the Emperor could stand it no longer, and he went off to Headquarters. There he was made to feel himself superfluous because he was never consulted on anything. "The Emperor," he wrote, "was ignored by all." He was only a nuisance with his pomp and his ceremonial, his white and gold train and his copper bath. When he went to the front it was to hold reviews and distribute decorations---parades which only wearied the army. Wherever he was William II was de trop and was sensible of the general impatience which his presence roused.
This soon became too much of a trial for his nerves. In 1916, when, instead of the glorious ending he had counted on, he saw the long drawn out agony ahead, he had a fit of nervous depression, and alternated between moods of exaltation and fits of weeping. After Verdun and the Somme, which proved the Allies' power of resistance, his morale gave way suddenly. He was smitten with a veritable passion for peace. This desire became at moments so intense that it was in danger of imperilling the army. The Emperor gave all sorts of mistaken commands. One day Ludendorf had to call in the Crown Prince in order to get William II to listen to reason.
The Emperor had always been superstitious and readily susceptible to fortune tellers' predictions. He often admitted it to his friends. Now there was a prophecy that his dynasty. would perish tragically in the course of his reign, and when events began to go badly with the German armies the Emperor was thinking all the time of this old prophecy.
From December, 1916, his neurasthenia became acute. When, in 1917, Headquarters were changed to Kreuznach, the Emperor went for a cure at Homburg. While there, he wept practically all the time. He had to be given continual assurances of victory. He was taken to the front to be present at small local gains to see the prisoners, for it was only the sight of prisoners which could rouse him from his torpor. It was the sight of thousands of Italians taken by the Germans on the Isonzo which gave him heart and set him on his feet again.
His suite, fearful of a renewed collapse, systematically hid the truth from him. And so, lulled into false hope by optimistic news, William II did not see the disaster that was approaching.
The Staff at the beginning of 1918 had played its last card on the battlefields of France, and lost. From the end of July Ludendorf knew that there was no hope. That conviction spread from the Staff to Berlin. William II made up his mind then to appeal to what he had always denied his own people---a democratic government---and the new Chancellor, Max von Baden, got into touch with President Wilson. Peace negotiations were begun, and suddenly revealed to the German people the truth of the disaster which had been kept from them.
What was to become of the Emperor in this extremity! That did not seem to worry the General Staff. Once more there was only one idea---keep him away. The Emperor, however, whom the Chancellor no longer consulted, was getting impatient at Potsdam and suddenly decided to go to Spa. That was his last active move. From that moment his rôle was over. He was to be the sport of fate.
On all sides came demands for his abdication. William II, who had not seen the débâcle coming and who was not prepared for it, talked about it, resisted it and wrangled over it. He did not understand that there was no time. to lose. He was the obstacle to peace---and did not know it. But the decisions that he could not take for himself were taken for him by others. At Berlin his abdication was published before he had signed it. At Spa he was put into a car bound for an unknown destination. The proud monarch, whose words and deeds had kept Europe busy for thirty years, was now a nameless thing without a will. On November 1st, 1918, he crossed the Dutch frontier in the gray light of the early morning.
His people have never forgiven him. The war and the defeat were misfortunes, but the flight was dishonor. There was no use saying that William II had not wanted that, just as he had not wanted the rest. It was no use saying that he had wished to spare his people the horrors of invasion and civil war. He will live in history as the man who could not bear to face the unspeakable disaster he had brought upon his people, and fled his responsibilities.
The Allies wanted to bring him to judgment. What a mistake! All they could have done by condemning him would have been to make him great. William II in the seeming quiet of his refuge in Holland is suffering the most terrible punishment that can be meted out to a man---the punishment of living through his own downfall and death.
FRANCIS-JOSEPH, EMPEROR OF AUSTRIA, APOSTOLIC KING of Hungary, King of Bohemia, of Dalmatia, of Croatia, of Slavonia, of Illyria and of Galicia, King of Jerusalem, etc., was called upon to bear the heaviest burden that can ever fall to the lot of a king: to live too long, to reign too long.
History records few kings who lived to grow old and yet left pleasant memories to their people. After all his years of glory Louis XIV lived to see the reverse of the Spanish Succession and to mourn the loss of friend after friend. Louis XV could arouse only contempt in the hearts of his people at the end of his reign, the brilliant beginning of which had earned for him the title of "Bien-Aimé." This is true even of Queen Victoria, for to-day her memory is dimmed by the reproach of having dominated too many generations and of having kept the throne too long from Edward VII.
Francis-Joseph is no exception. If he had died only three years earlier he would have gone down to posterity as a benevolent peace-loving prince high in the esteem of his subjects. Only some sour historian could then have ventured to criticize his greatness, whereas at present it is generally recognized that his longevity, far from being a blessing, brought countless disasters on his house, on his people, and on Europe.
The thought of so interminable a life makes the brain reel. Francis-Joseph was born in 1830. He rode on his grandfather's knee, the Emperor Francis who had been the host of all Europe at the Congress of Vienna. He played at the skirts of his aunt, Marie-Louise, the wife of Napoleon. He trembled before Metternich, who was still all-powerful. He knew Europe before the coming of the railway, he was the most important ruler of a Germany still to be united and of an Italy not yet free, and was able before he died to hear the far-off thunder of the guns at Verdun. His life more or less symbolizes the history of a century.
Francis-Joseph was not destined for the throne; the revolution of 1848 and two abdications, those of his uncle and his father, were needed to place him there unexpectedly at the age of eighteen. But it is doubtful whether his youth and lack of experience are sufficient excuse for the first official acts of his reign. The first was to revoke the constitution solemnly granted by his uncle that is, he broke faith with his people. The second was to call to his aid the autocrat of all the Russias, the Czar Nicholas I, against the Hungarians, who had revolted. These were the methods by which Francis-Joseph established his power, relying upon perjury and foreign bayonets. And the third was to abandon Russia in 1856 when she needed his help and "to astonish the world by his ingratitude." Such was the beginning of a reign that was to last for sixty-eight years.
Faith in dynasties was still very strong in Austria in the middle of the nineteenth century. It is sufficient to note the prestige still enjoyed by Francis-Joseph on the eve of the Great War and the veneration he inspired in his subjects, even though alien, to understand what his power must have been half a century earlier. If, by resolutely following a new policy, Francis-Joseph had tried to build up the glory of his house upon the satisfaction of his people he could have made of his country the strongest federation in all Europe.
He did exactly the contrary. Magenta, Solferino and Sadowa, two unfortunate wars, the loss of the dominant position held by Austria in Germany, the unity of Italy and the expulsion of the Austrians from Milan and Venice, where they had been welcomed as saviors in 1814, were necessary to force Francis-Joseph to make a compromise with his people. It was this that gave Ferdinand, who had been dethroned in 1848, the opportunity to ask the question "Why was I dethroned? I should have been quite as capable of losing battles and provinces as my nephew."
Although the concessions that Francis-Joseph had then been obliged to make still rankled in his mind and though he more than once prevented their application, the half-century that followed 1867 was the most peaceful and harmonious period of his reign.
Francis-Joseph was a short man, but all who knew him bear testimony to his imperial dignity, his simplicity of manner and to the conscientious way in which he fulfilled every duty. A believer in pomp, convinced that ceremony is necessary to the brilliance of a throne, he liked official functions, but not in excess. A great hunter, he rarely indulged in any other amusement. His journal, like that of Louis XVI and of most rulers, records nothing more important than the number of animals killed in a day. Very succinct in his correspondence, he did not hesitate to write many pages to his friend Prince Albert of Saxony, telling him all the details of a hunt at Ischl.
As time went on Francis-Joseph learned the rules of his profession. An indefatigable worker, he insisted on seeing everything himself, knowing everything, noting everything. He never, until a most advanced age, gave up the practice of giving collective audiences to those of his subjects who had any personal request to make, and he saw to it that his decisions in such cases were carried out.
Francis-Joseph was the greatest bureaucrat in his empire, the most assiduous, the most accurate, the most scrupulous. He was the very incarnation of a monarchy that had always been characteristically bureaucratic and inquisitorial. Thus he was able to inculcate methods of orderliness and accuracy into the administration of his country that had considerable influence on its development and prosperity during his reign.
But orderliness, application and hard work are not necessarily royal virtues. Francis-Joseph lacked the breadth of vision, the imagination and courage that are essential in a true head of a state. It is undoubtedly because of this that he was doubly unfortunate, in his family and in his diplomacy.
Francis-Joseph seems never to have known a grande passion. If he did so in his youth, history does not record it. Married to a woman, dreamy, romantic and nervous, with whom he had nothing in common, he found a sister soul in Madame Schratt, an actress at the Burg Theatre. Until his extreme old age he either went to see her or sent her a note every day---whence his affectionate nickname of "Herr Schratt" among the Viennese. But this liaison, though tolerated by every one, including the Empress, had little real influence on him in his private life and still less on his political opinions.
Francis-Joseph put his duties as head of the house of Hapsburg before those as head of the State. But his family was a source of endless trouble to him. Although faith in dynasties was still alive among the people it barely existed among the Hapsburgs themselves. This family, which a lucky chance had brought from its Swiss castle in the thirteenth century, had reigned too long. The reason why dynasties have declined or rather the evidence of their decline is that their own members have lost faith in them. Privileges are justified only by the obligations they bring with them, but modern princes shrink from the obligations while retaining the privileges. Few archdukes or archduchesses shared the Emperor's spirit of sacrifice to their name and to their blood, and he suffered greatly in his dignity and his most deeply rooted prejudices on account of numerous mésalliances, renunciations and scandals. Besides these injuries to his pride he was the victim of tragedy and bereavement. His brother Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico, was shot and Maximilian's widow lost her reason; the Archduke Rudolph, the only son of Francis-Joseph, committed suicide for love under mysterious circumstances; the Empress was assassinated in Geneva; her sister perished in a fire in Paris; and, finally, his nephew and heir-presumptive, Francis-Ferdinand, was assassinated at Serajevo on June 28th, 1914.
For a long time his stoicism was admired. These blows were powerless to shake him. He seemed to have a soul of iron; his fortitude was compared to that of the heroes of antiquity. But the world wearies of admiring. When he buried his nephew, after having buried his son and his wife, without shedding a tear, without flinching and without a trace of regret, a doubt arose as to whether this wonderful fortitude was after all merely egoism, hardness of heart and indifference.
No one who is indifferent to his own family can care for the needs of his people. What was lacking in Francis-Joseph throughout his long career was warmth, sympathy, feeling, the instinct of understanding for the sufferings of others. It was probably this trait in his character that prevented him from understanding his time and his country.
Francis-Joseph was no fool. He knew how to deal with people and he managed skillfully to "divide in order to reign." For a long time he was able to set the various nationalities against each other, arousing opposition in each and giving his support first to one and then to another, in short, as they say in Austria, to fortwursteln---to "wangle" his way.
But such methods are unworthy of a great ruler, and they finally brought Francis-Joseph to unprecedented disaster.
Our epoch has been dominated by the struggle of the peoples towards democracy. This is no fortuitous or arbitrary phenomenon. Democracy is the daughter of compulsory public education, itself a result of the progress of machinery. Industry has forced men to live in towns, where they have demanded better education and a greater degree of comfort. Being educated they are no longer willing to be governed without being consulted. Such inevitable and powerful tendencies should have been recognized by the head of a state.
Nationalism is the direct outcome of democracy. If men do not wish to be governed without their consent they will tolerate still less being governed by people who are of a different nationality and do not speak their language.
Austria-Hungary was a mosaic of different nations bound together only by chance events in history, having no other unity than the person of their ruler, no continuity other than the dynasty. If the Emperor had realized in time the direction in which the present epoch was to evolve he could easily have. found a new and more powerful principle of unity in federalism. The loyalty of his people would not have suffered, quite the reverse, and perhaps far from being troubled with disruptive tendencies, monarchy might have been able to attract and assimilate certain neighboring nations.
This is what Francis-Joseph would not see. He aimed at the material development of his country and he brought it to a high level of order and prosperity, but without seeing that the corollary to these advantages was the increasing participation of the people in the government. He completely forgot and ignored the fine motto shining in golden letters on his palace in Vienna: "Justitia fundamentum regnorum." He substituted for it this other archaic motto: "Voluntas regis lex reipublicæ." The loyalty of his people to him personally deceived him as to the solidarity of the state. He devoted all his energies to retaining his royal prerogatives. He even saw the actual symbol of his prestige and power in such questions of secondary importance as the language in which commands were given in the army. He made no effort to induce the Hungarian government to adopt a just and moderate policy with regard to the non-Magyar nations. In short, he thought that his own person, the army and the police, could constitute a lasting bond of union between his people. An error indeed!
Francis-Joseph's foreign policy was based upon similar and equally mistaken theories. He could not gauge the power of the monarchy either at home or abroad. He forced a foreign policy beyond its capacity upon a state already undermined internally. After the defeat at Sadowa, followed by the defeat of France at Sedan, the Emperor sacrificed his anger and almost his dignity by making an alliance with his conqueror, Bismarck. It seemed to him that this alliance would make peace assured. And so it did, for about twenty years. But the day came when Austria-Hungary found herself involved in the policy of prestige and megalomania pursued by William II as he grew older.
Under the shelter of the alliance, Austria-Hungary forgot her own weakness. She was deceived by internal peace resulting from the compromise of 1867. She indulged in great hopes. The annexation of Bosnia in 1908 seemed to Francis-Joseph only to compensate for the loss of Italy forty years before. All kings dream of leaving their countries as great as when they came into power. D'Aerenthal and the German alliance allowed Francis-Joseph to dream this dream.
A fleeting and dangerous triumph! Francis-Joseph did not realize that the annexation of Bosnia brought with it bitterness and irredentism, particularly the irredentism of the Serbs. From that moment the aged and peace-loving monarch became an object of hatred and attack. From that moment the government of Austria-Hungary lost its freedom of action and alliance. Bismarck is reputed to have said: "In every alliance there is one man and one horse"---that is to say, the one rides the other. Until then, Germany, surrounded by enemies, had been the horse, but from that moment the rôles were reversed.
But by one of the tricks of fate that befall declining monarchies, Francis-Joseph was left at that moment with no other adviser than Count Berchtold, an elegant aristocrat, inconsistent and weak-willed. It is said of him that it was far from the intention to the will and from the will to the decision, and still further from the decision to the action. Confronted by Tschirschky, the imperious ambassador of William II, by the heads of the army, the head of the Hungarian government, Count Tisza, and the head of his Cabinet, Count Forgasch, all of whom wanted war, this man positively ceased to exist.
It is characteristic of an improvident government to allow matters to become so acute that a peaceful settlement is no longer possible: "There are a number of questions in the world," says a certain philosopher on politics, "that can never be settled. At first attempts are made to decide them by diplomatic measures; these fail, and war is the next resource; then upon the realization that war decides nothing, there is a return to diplomacy." This thought might well be the epigraph on the reign of Francis-Joseph.
The assassination of the Archduke Francis-Ferdinand left Francis-Joseph completely cold. He did not care for his nephew. He was afraid of the complications in the dynasty that would arise upon the accession of a man whose wife and children had no right to reign. He hated the ideas of the Archduke, who supported a policy in favor of the Slav nationalists. The death of the heir came as a relief to Francis-Joseph and his court, who thought that the time had at last come to crush this nationalist movement already too long encouraged by Francis-Ferdinand. It was not to avenge Francis-Ferdinand that Austria made war; it was to kill for the second time his projects and his ideas. In order to stamp out the propaganda in favor of the Serbs, the reality and importance of which no one can to-day appreciate, these foolish advisers were going to set fire to Europe, ruin their country, and realize the wildest hopes of the unassimilated races. Truly a fine piece of work!
Austria believed that she took the initiative in this affair. She did not see that she was maneuvered. Francis-Joseph saw it less than any one. Already enfeebled by age, he meekly signed all papers put before him, with no regard for their importance. This was how he signed the first declaration of war that was to involve the whole of Europe. Without a word he took upon himself the most appalling responsibility that has ever rested upon a human conscience ---that of the death of ten million men.
Francis-Joseph lived for two years longer---completely forgotten by the world. He lived long enough to witness the sufferings of his people, but not long enough to see their anger. And when on November 21 st, 1916, he closed his eyes in the palace of Schönbrunn, where he had spent his whole life, he could have felt the first tremors of the shock that was shortly afterwards to bring the empire about the ears of his successor.
THERE IS A CURSE ON OMNIPOTENCE. THE HUMAN MIND, in the average man at least, offers no resistance to the consciousness of being above control. That consciousness acts as a solvent on those souls which do not rise to exceptional moral heights. How many colonial administrators who, lost in the bush among a native population, have furnished no end of scandals for the newspapers, would have been peaceable citizens in their own land? And in time of war, when passions are unleashed and impunity assured, how many otherwise peaceable citizens have abandoned themselves to atrocities and pillage? Omnipotence is a deadly poison.
Nicholas II, paragon of all the bourgeois virtues, conscientious, scrupulous, good husband and good father, would have been the best of his own subjects. He would have lived in the respect of his friends and died in the peace of the Lord. He might even---who knows?---have made a very good constitutional monarch of the type of his cousin, George V, to whom he was further linked by an extraordinary physical resemblance. His misfortune lay in the fact that he was the autocrat of All the Russias, feeble heir to a mighty empire, the holder of colossal power, and in exceptionally difficult circumstances. It was that power and those circumstances, for neither of which he was fitted, which overwhelmed him and brought him to his terrible and undeserved end in the dark cellar at Ekaterinenburg.
Supreme power, always a test for man, becomes in reality the most terrible of calamities when it is associated with weakness of character. It was so with Nicholas II, he was an autocrat by law, but he was weak-willed and changeable, and he was the head of a state whose internal weakness sprang from ancient and deep-rooted causes.
The tragedy of the Russian people has been that it has seen its natural evolution violently arrested by Peter the Great and his successors. Asiatic by origin, memories, tradition and legend, Russia has suddenly been turned with her face towards the West. From it she has had to take her morality and certain institutions, without being able to borrow with these the spirit which alone inspires morality and makes institutions live. The Russian people have never recovered from that drama of history; the soul of Russia, wrenched from its axis, has remained bewildered and disturbed. Hence her mystery, her pessimism, her leaning towards anarchy, her dreaming, her lack of the power to will and do---all the defects and all the qualities which, in the eyes of the West, go to make her charm.
This sudden break with tradition has fallen more heavily on the house of Romanoff than on any other Russian family. For the carrying out of the Western policy as conceived by Peter the Great the Tsars were unable to find in Russia the necessary personnel fitted for functions so foreign to the real nature of the Russian soul. They had of necessity to import that personnel---mostly from Germany, but from other nationalities as well. At the Congress of Vienna, Alexander I had about him two Germans (Nesselrode and Stein), a Corsican (Pozzo di Borgo), a Greek (Capo d'Istria), a Pole (Czartoryski), and a Swiss (La Harpe). In his immediate entourage there was not a single Russian. And so it was up to the very end with the Fredericks, the Benckendorffs, and the Sturmers of Nicholas II. "There are only ten Germans in Russia," it was said during the War. "But they are all around the Tsar."
There is nothing so dangerous for a nation as a division between the aristocracy and the people. From generation to generation the Tsars have been losing touch more and more with their subjects, separated from them as they were by an all-powerful administration. This bureaucracy, excellent in its beginnings and modeled on the German hierarchy, set up by the Tsars to inculcate into the people the methods and civilization of the West, lived only by its creators. The autocracy of the Tsar was at once the pledge and the basis of its power. So it was that the administration strove to concentrate all possible power in the hands of the Tsar, that is, in its own. Russia, so vast, so heterogeneous that her peoples called for a government that was localized and adapted to their individual needs---this Russia became the most centralized state in the world. And all these powers were concentrated in a single man, the Tsar, who neither knew this great unwieldy country nor ever guessed at its hidden reactions.
This régime, which might have been proper in the eighteenth century, became less and less suited to the social and moral condition of the people. The advance of industry, the concentration of population in the towns, the spread of education and comfort, created a class of intellectual bourgeoisie who suffered uneasily a rule in which they had no share. And yet, as often happens, the autocracy was to fall not by the evil that it did but by the good.
In 1861 Alexander II, the grandfather of Nicholas II, decreed the emancipation of the serfs. He saw perfectly clearly that the result of this initial reform must be the introduction of a certain amount of popular control in political institutions. But Alexander II was assassinated in 1881, without having lived to see the realization of his project, and his death marked the beginning of a period of autocratic reaction. While the social condition of Russia was approaching nearer and nearer to that of Europe, her political condition was drawing further and further away; Alexander III, inspired by Pobiedonostzev, gave to the word "autocrat" a meaning that it did not originally have. For, as M. Sazonov recalled, the word "autocrat" had in the first instance been a synonym in the history of Russia for "sovereign" and "independent" as regards foreign control.
It was during the reign of Alexander III that the misunderstanding between the Tsar and his people was aggravated, and that misunderstanding Nicholas II inherited at his accession. The young Tsar had no sooner ascended the throne than he received delegations from the nobles and the "zemetvos" (councils elected from the provinces and towns) who had come to offer their congratulations. He was, he says in his diary, "in the grip of a terrible emotion." That did not prevent him from reading them a short speech which had been prepared for him by the late Tsar's adviser, Pobiedonostzev, and in which he said that any hope of the people having a voice in the direction of public affairs was a "foolish dream." It was on that day, the 17th of January, 1895, that Nicholas II signed his own death warrant.
There are virtues which are more fatal in a ruler than vices. None of the three emperors reigning in Europe at the beginning of the War was a man of dissolute morals, and it might be said of all three that it was a great pity. There was no feminine influence surrounding William II or Francis-Joseph, but it was to Nicholas II, the most virtuous of the three, that his virtue proved most fatal.
The character of Nicholas II was distinguished by three main traits---submission to his father, submission to his wife, submission to God.
Nicholas II was above all a good son. His relations with his mother were very intimate and he wrote her the most affectionate letters. When his father died, leaving to the young man the burden of power, he (Nicholas) saw only an occasion for mourning and grief in the event that was to make him an all-powerful emperor.
He was a man of one idea, that God, in giving him the heritage of his father, had commanded him to hand it on intact to his son! Nicholas II never had any conception of his duty to his country, or to the people whose well-being he was to promote. Even to his ministers he was absolutely cold and never showed the least evidence of gratitude. He looked upon them as slaves. When Stolypine, the greatest of his servants, had been assassinated for him and before his eyes, his successor was about to say some words of condolence to the Tsar. The Tsar stopped him with a gesture "He is dead!"
The only duty that Nicholas II acknowledged was to his family, to his father and to his son. His conception of supreme power could be summed up in the one word "heritage."
So narrow a view of political realities could not but lead him to his ruin. The world evolves, circumstances change every moment. To conserve what you have you must know what to give up and what to hold firmly. Immobility is only apparently conservative. Nicholas II, alone immovable in a world full of movement, could not fail to be outstripped in the race, and lose what he had tried to keep intact. He was like the unfaithful servant in the Parable of the Talents.
Nicholas II, unlike William II, never had the. idea of giving up the ways of his father and ridding himself of his advisers. He kept Pobiedonostzev beside him, the old man who had been his tutor and had inculcated in him the principles of unlimited absolutism. Up to the death of Pobiedonostzev he followed his advice in everything, as if it had come from his father himself. Alexander III reigned on twenty years after his own death. In a sense Nicholas II deserved great praise for taking such a stand, for by temperament he was the reverse of autocratic: he had no will power and it cost him an effort to make any decision. He was intelligent, his judgment was sure and quick, he looked at all the questions submitted to him from every point of view, weighed the pros and cons, and never came to any conclusion. All the letters which his wife wrote to him when he was at the front or traveling are full of this advice: "Be strong! Be determined! Never forget that you are an autocrat!"
Nicholas II applied himself to his task as a good pupil applies himself to a disagreeable exercise. But he never liked it; M. Paléologue, the French Ambassador at Petrograd, writes: "Nicholas II does not love the exercise of his power. If he jealously defends his absolute prerogatives it is purely on mystical grounds. He never forgets that his power comes from God and he is constantly thinking of the account he will have to give of it in the valley of Jehosaphat."
Nicholas II never ceased to suffer from the decisions that he had to make, and, moreover, he was under no illusions as to the reality of his power. "You have more power than I have," he said one day to M. Albert Thomas, French Minister of Munitions. "When you give an order, it is carried out!"
This model son was an excellent husband, a touchingly affectionate parent. Not only had he made a love-match with the Princess Alix of Hesse, but on the throne he constantly showed his affection. "Every day," he wrote, "I bless the Lord and thank Him from the bottom of my soul for the happiness which He has granted me. No one could wish for greater happiness on this earth." And his wife on her side writes: "Never did I believe there could be such happiness in this world, such a feeling of unity between two mortal beings."
These mutual feelings lasted throughout their married life. The correspondence of the Empress to the Emperor during the War has been published and is full of loving outpourings: "My dear, my treasure, my well-beloved, my very dear love, my little bird," such are the names which she constantly gives him. "I cannot get accustomed to not having you here at home, even for a little while, although I have my five treasures with me . . . my heart and my soul are always near you, with the most tender and passionate love. I shall miss you cruelly, my precious love. Sleep well, my darling. Oh, how empty my bed will be!"
These few examples, which could be multiplied, will serve to show what a love united these two beings on the most exalted throne in the world. Sir George Buchanan, a former English Ambassador to Petrograd, in speaking of the tragedy which cut off Nicholas II and his wife, wrote, "The only ray of light in the dark picture is the fact that, united as they had been in their lives, they remained so till the end, and that in death they were not divided."
Nevertheless, all those who had access to the Empress noticed the sad expression of her face and the tragic look in her eyes. The reason was not only that she detested public life and the pomp of ceremonial display, that she was never happy except in the warmth of her own apartments with her husband and children; it lay above all in the fact that her innermost life was tortured by a double anxiety: for the life of her husband, constantly threatened by assassins, and for the life of her son, threatened by an inexorable disease.
It was these anxieties, all born of love, which poisoned the life of Nicholas II and finally brought him to his end. Tragic outcome of a noble emotion! The Empress, who was neurotic, and probably hysterical, found her health ruined by the emotional strain. The Tsar, fearing above all things to provoke one of the nervous crises to which she was subject, now deferred to her wishes in everything, more from fear than from love. Thus the Tsarina found herself possessed of a power quite out of proportion to her intelligence, her political acumen, and her knowledge of the country whose sovereign she was.
By an extraordinary mischance this woman, Protestant by birth, German by education, and English in feeling, acquired from the Russian character the most unlikely trait to appeal to the Western mind, its superstitious mysticism, its love of miracle and magic. All, through the reign, the court of Russia was filled with "staretz," men of God who were more or less charlatans and generally quite uneducated. There was first the monk Iliodore, then an illiterate deaf-mute whose grunts were interpreted as the decrees of God, then the butcher's boy, Philippe of Lyons, then the Montenegrin Mordary, and many others even before the notorious Rasputin.
No breath of suspicion can be attached to the relations between the Tsarina and Rasputin. But this dissolute charlatan made use of his influence over the Empress, her daughters and Mme. Viroubova, who was very intimate with them, and through these women over Nicholas II, to serve his spites, his prejudices, and his interests. In the darkest hours of the War his influence was all-powerful. It was he who had Sazonov dismissed, who appointed Sturmer, protected Soukhomlinov and maintained Protopopov in favor---the vultures of Russia.
The power of Rasputin lay in the fact that the Empress saw in him the one intercessor with God, the miraculous protector of the health of her son, the dispenser of divine counsel. "The Empress," wrote M. Paléologue, the French Ambassador, on June 28th, 1916, "is going through a bad phase. Too many prayers, too many fasts, too much asceticism, excitement and insomnia. She is beside herself, and her mind is set more and more on the idea that she has a mission to save Holy Orthodox Russia and that the knowledge, favor, and protection of Rasputin are indispensable to her success. At every turn she asks the Staretz for his advice, his encouragements, and his blessing."
When Rasputin was dead---assassinated by a prince and a grand duke, the Empress wrote with her own hand this note which she herself placed on his breast as he lay in the coffin: "My beloved martyr, give me your blessing that it may follow me on the sorrowful way I have to travel here below, and remember us in Heaven, in your holy prayers!"
Unfortunately, the death of Rasputin did not serve the royal family so well as its authors had hoped. First of all he was quickly replaced, and by a man even more worthless than he---Protopopov, the Minister of the Interior. He used to crawl under tables on all fours, imitating the cries of animals, and he made use of mediums to call up the spirit of Rasputin before the imperial family. Secondly, and this proved fatal, the assassination of the man in whom Their Majesties saw their protector and their hope, confirmed the Tsar and his whole entourage in the conviction that God had forsaken them.
This conviction was of long standing. "At the court," a high official once said to M. Paléologue, "people have noticed for a long time how unlucky the Emperor is. It is well known that he fails in all that he undertakes, that fate is always against him; in short, that he is obviously doomed to disaster. Besides, it seems that the lines of his hand are terrifying."
At the coronation festivities in Moscow over two thousand moujiks were trampled in a crowd. A few weeks later the Emperor saw a boat laden with three hundred passengers sink in the Dnieper before his eyes. His favorite minister, Prince Lebanoff, died suddenly in his train, in his very presence; he ardently wished for a son, and four daughters were born before his wife presented him with an heir, who was smitten with an incurable hereditary disease---hæmophilia. After he had longed for peace on earth, and called the Hague Conference of 1899, he let himself be embroiled in a war with Japan in which he lost all his armies and his whole fleet. Thereupon a revolution broke out, riots and massacres followed in quick succession. The people were shot down in the public square of the Winter Palace. His uncle, the Grand Duke Sergius, the Governor of Moscow, was assassinated, then his minister Stolypine, he who seemed to be destined to be the savior of Russia, fell in his presence under the bullets of an assassin in the pay of the police. Then there was the War.
On closer scrutiny this tragic succession of events is less due to chance and ill-luck than to mistakes in government, incapable administration, and police corruption. But how could Nicholas II with his mystical temperament fail to see in all this the hand of God? "I am firmly convinced," he said to M. Isvolsky one day when the cannonade of the fleet against the revolutionaries could be heard in the distance, "that the fate of Russia, of myself, and my family is in the hands of God, who has set me where I am." And after he had decided, in 1915, to take over the command of the army himself, he said, "It may be that Russia can only be saved by an atoning sacrifice. I shall be that sacrifice. May God's will be done!"
In that respect Nicholas II was a true son of his country. Was it not one of his ministers who said one day to the French Ambassador, "When things do not go well, I am resigned. When they go badly, I despair"? And when he noticed a gesture of surprise from the Ambassador, he added, "You forget that I am a Russian."
Nicholas II had received two fundamental political ideas from his father. The one was domestic---Autocracy; the other, foreign---the French alliance. It was these two ideas combined which finally brought on the catastrophe to which he succumbed.
As we have seen, the misunderstanding which separated him from his people dated back to the first days of his reign. It was aggravated in a terrible way in 1905; the police shot down the crowd that had come before the Emperor carrying ikons. When the people had dispersed the snow was strewn with hundreds of corpses. It was an unforgettable sight. It might be said without paradox that Nicholas II was at heart gentle, humane, honorable. But how are you to make people believe this, when they see only that prisons are full, that Siberia is peopled with exiles, and that promises are violated! Kingship is subject to these contradictions.
In 1905, Nicholas II yielded to the entreaties of his counsellors and granted a constitution. But far from being proud of it, far from seeing in it the most glorious act of his reign, he never ceased to reproach himself for such treason to his father's memory. His wife, who knew his weakness, exhorted him to be strong. Consumed by remorse, Nicholas dismissed Count Witte, who had forced the constitution upon him. He appointed other ministers and allowed them to violate the promises he had made to the people. The Duma was dissolved, the constitutional safeguards abolished. The people learned that they could not trust the word of their Emperor.
There is only one justification for autocracy---that it is beneficent and efficient. This one was not. The administration was deplorable and corrupt. Far from stimulating the development of the country it opposed all individual initiative for fear of the people. Not only did the state make no roads, but it forbade landowners to make them on their own land. And two great wars revealed the fact that Tsarism was no more efficient in time of war than in time of peace.
Nicholas II had dreamed a very noble dream of universal peace. When in 1899 he summoned the Hague Conference he took the most forward step of any statesman before the War. But he was incapable of carrying out his own will. In 1904 he allowed himself to be drawn into a fruitless war with Japan and in 1914 with William II, the only man of Modern Europe in whom he could see a support for autocracy.
Nicholas II certainly did not want the War. He came into it reluctantly and he deserves great credit if he remained to the end a faithful ally of the western powers. For his entourage was German in origin, education and sympathies, and he could not fail to see the dangers in which such a conflict placed his throne. If he had been victorious (which he doubtless never for one moment believed) it would have meant the victory of western democracy, the end of all the ideas that were dear to him. If he lost, it meant revolution, which even then all the world saw coming.
One day the King of Spain asked M. Jules Cambon if he would advise him to institute compulsory military service in his country. The French diplomat, one of the cleverest men of our time, made this remarkable reply, "Sire, look to your throne!"
M. Jules Cambon was right. A professional army is a support to a throne, but universal service is a threat to it. This was peculiarly the case in Russia. Never had such an enormous mass of moujiks been brought together. They were transported far from their homes, they saw something of their country, they were better fed than usual, they were decently clothed, their horizon was enlarged, their needs were increased, and, after all that, they were given rifles without ammunition---and were sent to their death without a chance of defending themselves.
For these troops officers were needed. In a country where there is not a large middle class almost all the intellectuals have to be taken. Many of these had advanced ideas, and the army of the Tsar become a hotbed of revolutionary propaganda.
While at the front the inefficiency of the civil and military administration was obvious to all, by faults of strategy. and insufficient commissariat, a sly rumor went about that there was treason at court. But there was no treason properly speaking; there was an extraordinary accumulation of mistakes in policy. The greatest was the dismissal of Sazonov and the retraction of the promises which the Grand Duke Nicholas had made to Poland in the name of the Tsar. It was the history of the 1905 constitution repeating itself.
While the Emperor was at Headquarters, Rasputin and then Protopopov ruled in the name of the Empress; at such a spectacle the most patriotic Russians became revolutionaries in order to save their country. At last the upper classes joined with the people---but too late. M. Paléologue notes that in 1916 and 1917 Nicholas II was spoken of in court circles in the same way as was Paul I, who died at the assassin's hand. But things were to take a different course, even more sanguinary. Only the Tsarina, blinded by her love, did not see what was coming.
The revolution gave to this model family the only hours of real happiness that it had ever known. Nicholas II had ceased to be emperor: the cares of state no longer weighed on his faltering shoulders. He was no longer tortured by having to make decisions. His insomnia had gone. Prisoners together, first at Tsarskoe Selo, then at Tabolsk, the Tsar, his wife, and his children never separated, and they enjoyed their re-found happiness to the full.
Alas, that joy was not to be of long duration. Kerensky, to whom Nicholas said one day in an expansive moment, "Ah, Monsieur Kerensky, if I had known you earlier what a government we would have made between us!"---Kerensky was replaced by the Bolsheviks.
The calvary of the imperial family had begun. It was by the nobility of her attitude then that the Empress redeemed twenty years of mistaken policy. Her refusal to leave the Emperor was so categorical that even the Bolsheviks did not dare to separate them. It was by her wish that they all walked together to their death,---to that horrible massacre in the cellar at Ekaterinenburg which dishonored forever the Bolshevik régime.
Alas, Nicholas II was perhaps right. There is a fate that hangs over peoples, families and individuals. This is what the great Russian writer Merejkowski wrote in 1905:
"In the house of Romanoff as in that of Atreus, a mysterious curse passes from generation to generation. Murder follows adultery and bloodshed, the fifth act of a tragedy is played out in a brothel, Peter I kills his son, Alexander I kills his father, Catherine II kills her husband, and among these great and famous victims there are the little ones, the unknowns, the unhappy abortions of autocracy like Ivan Antonovitch, strangled like mice in dark corners, in the dungeons of Schlüsselburg. The block, the rope, the poison phial---these are the true emblems of the Russian autocracy. The divine unction on the head of the Tsar is transformed into the brand and curse of Cain."
The Origins of the War
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