By Maurice Paléologue
AUGUST 18-SEPTEMBER 11, 1914
The Tsar at Moscow.---Imposing ceremonies.---Popular excitement.---Memories of 1812.---Sazonov's views on the future of Germany.---Death of Pope Pius X.---The German march on Paris.---The Russian offensive in East Prussia.---The Soldau disaster: "We owe this sacrifice to France. . ."---The capital of the Empire henceforth to be called Petrograd.---The character of Nicholas I.---His superstitious fears bred of his ill luck.---The Declaration of London: no separate peace.---Operations of the Russian armies in Galicia, Poland and Prussia.---The victory of the Marne.
Tuesday August 18, 1914.
When I arrived at Moscow this morning I went with Buchanan about half-past ten to the great Kremlin Palace. We were ushered into the St. George's hall, where the high dignitaries of the empire, the ministers, delegates of the nobility, middle classes, merchant community, charitable organizations, etc., were already assembled in a dense and silent throng.
On the stroke of eleven o'clock the Tsar, the Tsaritsa and the imperial family made their ceremonial entry. The grand dukes had all gone to the front and besides the sovereigns there were only the four young grand duchesses, the Tsar's daughters, the Tsarevitch Alexis, who hurt his leg yesterday and had to be carried in the arms of a Cossack, and the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, the Tsaritsa's sister, abbess of the Convent of Martha-and-Mary of Pity.(1)
The imperial party stopped in the centre of the hall. In a full, firm voice the Tsar addressed the nobility and people of Moscow. He proclaimed that, as the traditions of his ancestors decreed, he had come to seek the moral support he needed in prayer at the relics in the Kremlin. He declared that a heroic national impulse was sweeping over all Russia, without distinction of race or nationality, and concluded:
"From this place, the very heart of Russia, I send my soul's greeting to my valiant troops and my noble allies. God is with us!"
A continuous burst of cheering was his answer.
As the imperial group moved on the Grand Master of the Ceremonies invited Buchanan and myself to follow the royal family, immediately after the grand duchesses.
Through the St. Vladimir room and the Sacred Gallery we reached the Red Staircase, the lower flight of which leads by a bridge with a purple awning to the Ouspensky Sobor, the Cathedral of the Assumption.
The moment the Tsar appeared a storm of cheering broke out from the whole Kremlin where an enormous crowd, bare-headed and struggling, thronged the pavements. At the same time all the bells of the Ivan Veliky chimed in chorus, and the Great Bell of the Ascension, cast from the metal saved from the ruins in 1812, sent a thunderous boom above the din. Around us Holy Moscow, with her sky-blue domes, copper spires and gilded bulbs, sparkled in the sun like a fantastic mirage.
The hurricane of popular enthusiasm almost dominated the din of the bells.
Count Benckendorff, Grand Marshal of the Court, came up to me and said:
"Here's the revolution Berlin promised us!"
In so saying he was probably interpreting everyone's thoughts. The Tsar's face was radiant. In the Tsaritsa's was joyous ecstasy. Buchanan whispered:
"This is a sublime moment to have lived to see! Think of all the historic future being made here and now!"
"Yes, and I'm thinking, too, of the historic past which is seeing its fulfilment here. It was from this very spot on which we now stand that Napoleon surveyed Moscow in flames. It was by that very road down there that the Grand Army began its immortal retreat!"
We were now at the steps of the cathedral. The Metropolitan of Moscow, surrounded by his clergy, presented to their Majesties the cross of Tsar Michael Feodorovitch, the first of the Romanovs, and the holy water.
We entered the Ouspensky Sobor. This edifice is square, surmounted by a gigantic dome supported by four massive pillars, and all its walls are covered with frescoes on a gilded background. The iconostasis, a lofty screen, is one mass of precious stones. The dim light falling from the cupola and the flickering glow of the candles kept the nave in a ruddy semi-darkness.
The Tsar and Tsaritsa stood in front of the right ambo at the foot of the column against which the throne of the Patriarchs is set.
In the left ambo the court choir, in XVIth century silver and light blue costume, chanted the beautiful anthems of the orthodox rite, perhaps the finest anthems in sacred music.
At the end of the nave opposite the iconastasis the three Metropolitans of Russia and twelve archbishops stood in line. In the aisles on their left was a group of one hundred and ten bishops, archimandrites and abbots. A fabulous, indescribable wealth of diamonds, sapphires, rubies and amethysts sparkled on the brocade of their mitres and chasubles. At times the church glowed with a supernatural light.
Buchanan and I were on the Tsar's left, in front of the court.
Towards the end of the long service the Metropolitan brought their Majesties a crucifix containing a portion of the true cross which they reverently kissed. Then through a cloud of incense the imperial family walked round the cathedral to kneel at the world-famed relics and the tombs of the patriarchs.
During this procession I was admiring the bearing and attitudes of the Grand Duchess Elizabeth, particularly when she bowed or knelt. Although she is approaching fifty she has kept her slim figure and all her old grace. Under her loose white woollen hood she was as elegant and attractive as in the old days before her widowhood, when she still inspired profane passions. To kiss the figure of the Virgin of Vladimir which is set in the iconostasis she had to place her knee on a rather high marble scat. The Tsaritsa and the young grand duchesses who preceded her had had to make two attempts---and clumsy attempts---before reaching the celebrated ikon. She managed it in one supple, easy and queenly movement.
The service was now over. The procession was reformed and the clergy took their place at its head. One last chant, soaring in triumph, filled the nave. The door opened.
All the glories of Moscow suddenly came into view in a blaze of sunshine. As the procession passed out I reflected that the court of Byzantium, at the time of Constantine Porphyrogenetes, Nicephorus Phocas or Andronicus Paleologue, can alone have seen so amazing a display of sacerdotal pomp.
At the end of the covered-in passage the imperial carriages were waiting. Before entering them the royal family stood for a time facing the frantic cheers of the crowd. The Tsar said to Buchanan and myself:
"Come nearer to me, Messieurs les Ambassadeurs. These cheers are as much for you as for me."
Amid the torrent of acclamations we three discussed the war which had just begun. The Tsar congratulated me on the wonderful ardour of the French troops and reiterated the assurance of his absolute faith in final victory. The Tsaritsa tried to give me a few kind words. I helped her out:
"What a comforting sight for your Majesty! How splendid it is to see all these people swept by patriotic exaltation and fervour for their rulers!"
Her answer was almost inaudible but her strained smile and the strange spell of her wrapt gaze, magnetic and inspired, revealed her inward intoxication.
The Grand Duchess Elizabeth joined in our conversation. Her face in the frame of her long white woollen veil was alive with spirituality. Her delicate features and white skin, the deep, far-away look in her eyes, the low, soft tone of her voice and the luminous glow round her brows all betrayed a being in close and constant contact with the ineffable and the divine.
As Their Majesties returned to the palace Buchanan and I left the Kremlin amidst an ovation which accompanied us to our hotel.
I spent the afternoon seeing Moscow, lingering particularly over the places hallowed by memories of 1812. They stood out in sharp relief by contrast with the present moment.
At the Kremlin the ghost of Napoleon seems to rise up at every step. From the Red Staircase the Emperor watched the progress of the fire during the baneful night of September 16. It was there that he took counsel of Murat, Eugène, Berthier and Ney in the midst of the leaping flames and under a blinding shower of cinders. It was there that he had that clear and pitiless vision of his impending ruin: "All this," he said repeatedly, "is the herald of great disasters!" It was by this road that he hastily went down to the Moskowa accompanied by a few officers and men of his guard. It was there that he entered the winding streets of the burning city. "We walked," says Ségur, "upon an earth of fire, under a sky of fire, between two walls of fire." Alas! does not the present war promise us a second edition of this Dantesque scene? And how many copies to the edition?
North of the Kremlin and between the Church of St. Basil and the Iberian Gate lies the Red Square, of glorious and tragic memory. If I had to give a list of those spots in which the visions and sentiments of the past have most vividly passed before my eyes I should include the Roman Campagna, the Acropolis at Athens, the Eyub cemetery at Stambul, the Alhambra in Granada, the Tartar city of Pekin, the Hradschin in Prague and the Kremlin of Moscow. This curious conglomeration of palaces, towers, churches, monasteries, chapels, barracks, arsenals and bastions, this incoherent jumble of sacred and secular buildings, this complex of functions as fortress, sanctuary, seraglio, harem, necropolis and prison, this blend of advanced civilization and archaic barbarism, this violent contrast of the crudest materialism and the most lofty spirituality---are they not the whole history of Russia, the whole epic of the Russian nation, the whole inward drama of the Russian soul?
Towering above the banks of the Moskowa to the south of the Red Square the Church of St. Basil rears its prodigious and paradoxical architecture, the architecture of dreamland. The most conflicting styles, Byzantine, Gothic, Lombard, Persian, and Russian seem to have been incorporated. Yet an imposing harmony emerges from all these slender, aspiring, twisting, many-hued forms and all this riot of imagination.
It pleases me to think that the Italian Renaissance was introduced into the Kremlin by Sophy Paleologue, niece of the last Emperor of Constantinople, who fled to Rome. In 1472 she married the Tsar of Moscow, Ivan III, known to history as "Ivan the Great." It was through her that he henceforth regarded himself as heir to the Byzantine Empire. He took the two-headed eagle as Russia's new arms. She surrounded herself with Italian artists and engineers. In her reign a gentle breeze of Hellenism and classical culture tempered the rigours of Muscovite barbarism for a time.
Towards evening I ended my walk on Sparrow Hill, the view from which embraces Moscow and the whole vale of the Moskowa. It used to be called the "Hill of Salvation," because Russian travellers, when they had their first glimpse of the holy city from this spot, used to stop for a moment to cross themselves and offer up a prayer. Thus for the Slav Rome Sparrow Hill awakes the same memories as Monte Mario for the Latin Rome. The same feeling of wondering and pious admiration made the pilgrims of the Middle Ages fall on their knees when they beheld the City of Martyrs from the heights which crown the banks of the Tiber.
At half-past two in the afternoon of September 14, 1812, in brilliant sunshine, the advance guard of the French army ascended Sparrow Hill in open order. They stopped, as if smitten dumb with the majesty of the sight. Clapping their hands they cried out gleefully: "Moscow! Moscow!" Napoleon came up. In a transport of delight he called out: "So this is the famous city!" But he immediately added: "It was high time!"
Chateaubriand has summed up the scene in a metaphor rich in picturesque romanticism: "Moscow, a European princess on the frontier of her empire, arrayed in all the glories of Asia, seemed to have been brought there to wed Napoleon."
Did any vision of that kind flit through the mind of the Emperor? I doubt it. Thoughts far more serious, uneasy forebodings, already claimed him.
At ten in the evening I left for St. Petersburg.
From the political point of view to-day's happenings have left me with two strong impressions. The first came to me in the Ouspensky Sobor as I watched the Emperor standing before the iconostasis. His person, his entourage and the whole setting of the ceremony seemed an eloquent interpretation of the very principle of Tsarism as it was defined in the imperial manifesto of June 16, 1914, ordering the dissolution of the first Duma:
As it is God himself who has given Us our supreme power it is before His altar alone that We are responsible for the destinies of Russia.
My second impression is the frantic enthusiasm of the Muscovite people for their Tsar. I never thought that the monarchical illusion and imperial fetishism were still so deeply rooted in the heart of the moujik. There are very many Russian proverbs which express this unshakeable faith of the poor and lowly in their master: "The Tsar is good: it is his servants who are bad ... The Tsar is not guilty of the sufferings of his people; the tchinovniks hide the truth from him!" But there is also another proverb it is wise to remember because it explains, on the other side of the shield, all the desperation and protest of the popular mind:
It's very high up to God! It's a very long way to the Tsar!
And to set a true value on the ovations which the Tsar received this morning on the Red Square one must not forget that on this same spot, on December 22, 1905, it was found necessary to fire on the crowd which was singing the Marseillaise.
Wednesday, August 19, 1914.
I returned to St. Petersburg this morning.
The French troops are making progress in the valleys of the Vosges on the Alsace side. The forts of Liège are still resisting but the German army is not allowing itself to be held up by these forts and is marching straight on Brussels.
The Russian troops are rapidly concentrating on the frontier of East Prussia.
Thursday, August 20, 1914.
Sazonov came for a tête-à-tête luncheon with me to-day. We discussed in an academic sort of way the objects it will be our business to attain when peace comes, objects we shall only obtain by force of arms. Indeed, we have no doubt that Germany will accept none of our demands until we have put her out of the field. The present war is not the kind of war that ends with a political treaty after a battle of Solferino or Sadowa. It is a war to the death in which each group of belligerents stakes its very existence.
"My formula's a simple one," said Sazonov. "We must destroy German imperialism. We can only do that by a series of military victories so that we have a long and very stubborn war before us. The Emperor has no illusions on that score ... But great political changes are essential if Kaisertum is not to rise at once from its ashes and the Hohenzollerns are never again to be in a position to aspire to universal dominion. In addition to the restitution of Alsace-Lorraine to France, Poland must be restored, Belgium enlarged, Hanover reconstituted, Slesvig returned to Denmark, Bohemia freed and all the German colonies given to France, England and Belgium. etc."
"It's a gigantic programme. But I agree with you that we ought to do our utmost to realize it if we want our work to be lasting."
Then we worked out the forces of the respective belligerents, their reserves of man-power and financial, industrial, agricultural, etc., resources. We looked into our chances of deriving advantage from the internal dissensions of Austria and Hungary---a subject which inspired me to remark:
"There's another factor we must not neglect---public opinion among the German masses. It is very important that we should be well informed as to what is going on there. You ought to organize an intelligence service in the great socialist centres which are nearest to your territory, Berlin, Dresden, Leipzig, Chemnitz, Breslau."
"It's very difficult to organize."
"Yes, but indispensable. Don't forget that after a military defeat it will undoubtedly be the German Socialists who will force the jack-boot caste to make peace. If we could only help them . . ."
Sazonov started. In a sharp, dry voice he exclaimed:
"Not that! No, no! Revolution will never be one of our weapons!"
"You may be quite certain that it's a weapon our enemies will use against you! Germany hasn't waited for a possible defeat of your armies---nor even for the outbreak of war---to establish an intelligence service in your working class circles. You won't deny that the strikes which broke out in Petersburg during the President of the Republic's visit were instigated by German agents."
"I know that only too well. But I tell you again revolution will never be one of our weapons, even against Germany."
Our conversation rested there. Sazonov had ceased to be at all expansive. The evocation of the spectre of revolution had suddenly frozen him.
To ease his mind I took him to Krestovsky Island in my car. There we walked about under the splendid trees which stretch to the sparkling, chequered waters of the Neva estuary.
We spoke of the Tsar. I said to Sazonov:
"What a wonderful impression he made on me the other day at Moscow! He was the living embodiment of resolution , persistence and strength."
"He made the same impression on me and it seemed to me a very happy augury---but a much needed augury, for after all ... "
He stopped abruptly as if he dare not pursue his thought. I pressed him to continue. He took my arm and said in a tone of affectionate confidence:
"Don't forget that the Emperor's salient characteristic is a mystic resignation."
Then he told me the following significant anecdote he had heard from his brother-in-law, Stolypin, ex-President of the Council, who was assassinated on September 18, 1911.
It was in 1909 when Russia was beginning to forget the nightmare of the Japanese War and the troubles which followed it. One day Stolypin asked the Tsar's approval of a serious piece of domestic legislation. Nicholas II listened to him absent-mindedly and then shrugged his shoulders in a sceptical, indifferent sort of way, as much as to say: "That or something else, what does it matter?"
At last he remarked in a melancholy tone:
"Peter Arkadievitch. I succeed in nothing I undertake, I've no luck at all .... And anyhow the human will is so impotent!"
Stolypin, a courageous and resolute character, protested vigorously. The Tsar then asked him:
"Have you ever read the Lives of the Saints?"
"Yes .... some of it at any rate. If I remember rightly there are quite twenty volumes of it."
"And do you know on what day my birthday falls?"
"How could I forget it? It is May 6."
"What Saint's day is it?"
"Forgive me, Sire, I'm afraid I've forgotten."
"The Patriarch Job."
"Then God be praised! Your Majesty's reign will end gloriously, for Job, after piously enduring the most cruel tests of his faith, found blessings and rewards showered upon his head!"
"No, no, Peter Arkadievitch, believe me! I have a presentiment---more than a presentiment, a secret conviction---that I am destined for terrible trials . . . but I shall not receive my reward on this earth. How often have I not applied to myself the words of Job:
"Hardly have I entertained a fear than it comes to pass and all the evils I foresee descend upon my head."
It is certain that this war is going to compel all the belligerents to put forth their last ounce of moral strength and organizing power. The story Sazonov has just told me brings me to an observation I have often made since I came to live among the Russians, an observation which in a way sums up their national physiognomy.
If the word mysticism is used in its broad sense the Russian is pre-eminently a mystic. He is a mystic not merely in his religious life but also in his social, political and emotional life.
Behind all the reasoning which dictates his actions a certain belief is always apparent. He reasons and acts as if he believes that human events are produced by secret, superhuman forces, by occult, arbitrary and autocratic powers. This disposition, more or less avowed and conscious, is directly connected with his imagination which is naturally uncontrolled and dispersive. It is also the product of his atavism, geographical position, climate and history.
Left to himself he feels no need to enquire how things happen, or what are their practical and necessary determining factors, or by what rational and successive agencies they can be produced or averted. Indifferent to logical certainty he has no taste for considered and accurate observation or analytical and deductive enquiry. He relies less on his intelligence than on his imagination and emotional faculties; he cares less about understanding than about "sensing" and divination. Usually he acts only on intuition or by routine and natural helplessness.
From the religious point of view his faith is contemplative, visionary, filled with vague hopes, superstitious fears and Messianic expectations; always in search of direct communication with the invisible and the divine.
From the political point of view the conception of effective cause is utterly foreign to him. Tsarism seems to him a metaphysical entity. He attributes to the Tsar and his ministers intrinsic virtue, self-contained dynamic force and a kind of magic power to govern the empire, redress abuses, effect reforms, establish the reign of justice, etc. By what legislative measures, through what administrative machinery can they effectually do so? That is their business, their secret.
In his emotional life also, the Russian constantly feels himself the submissive instrument of strange forces which lead him where they will. By way of apology for his sins and shortcomings, extravagances and surrenders, he usually pleads ill luck, fate, the mysterious influence of the Beyond and frequently even sorcery and the enchantments of the devil.
Such views do not exactly promote personal, responsible effort and manly, sustained action, and that is why the Russian so often surprises us with his indifference, his "wait and see" attitude and his passive and resigned inaction.
Conversely---and though it is almost impossible to appeal to his soul---he is capable of the most splendid impulses and the most heroic sacrifices. And his whole history proves that he is always true to himself when he feels himself really called on . . .
Pope Pius X died last night. Will any conclave ever open in graver circumstances or in the midst of a greater upheaval of human affairs? Will the College of Cardinals find in its ranks a pontiff with sufficient humanity, depth of piety, strength of character and astuteness of intellect to play the capital and unprecedented role which the war offers to the Holy See?
Friday, August 21, 1914.
On the Belgian and French fronts our operations are taking a bad turn. I have received an order to make representations to the Imperial Government to accelerate the projected offensive of the Russian armies as much as possible.
I went to the War Minister and put the French Government's request to him with considerable vigour. He sent for an officer and immediately dictated to him from my dictation---a telegram to the Grand Duke Nicholas.
Then I questioned General Sukhomlinov about the operations in progress on the Russian front. I took note of what he told me in the following terms:
(1) The Grand Duke Nicholas is determined to advance full speed on Berlin and Vienna, more especially Berlin, passing between the fortresses of Thorn, Posen and Breslau.
(2) The Russian armies have taken the offensive along the entire front.
(3) The forces attacking East Prussia have already advanced 20 to 45 kilometres on hostile territory; their line is approximately Soldau-Neidenburg-Lyck-Angerburg-Insterburg.
(4) In Galicia the Russian troops advancing on Lemberg have reached the Bug and the Sereth.
(5) The forces operating on the left bank of the Vistula will advance straight on Berlin the moment the northwestern armies have succeeded in "fixing" the enemy.
(6) The twenty-eight corps now at grips with Germany and Austria represent approximately 1,120,000 men.
Yesterday the Germans entered Brussels. The Belgian army is withdrawing to Antwerp. Between Metz and the Vosges the French army has been compelled to retire after suffering heavy losses.
Saturday, August 22, 1914.
The Germans are outside Namur. While one of their corps is bombarding the town their main body is continuing its progress towards the sources of the Sambre and the Oise. The plan of the German offensive through Belgium is now being revealed in all its grandeur.
Sunday, August 23, 1914.
Our allies from across the Channel are now beginning to appear on the Belgian front. As a matter of fact an English cavalry division has already scattered a German column---at Waterloo! Wellington and Blücher ought to have turned in their graves. A great battle is opening between Mons and Charleroi.
The Russians are advancing in East Prussia; they have just occupied Insterburg.
Monday, August 24, 1914.
The Ministry wires me from Paris:
Information from an unimpeachable source has brought to our knowledge the fact that two active(2) corps which were originally opposed to the Russian army have now been transferred to the French front and replaced on Germany's eastern frontier by landwehr formations. The German General Staff's plan of campaign is too clear for there to be any need for us to insist on the necessity of the Russian armies prosecuting their offensive à outrance in the direction of Berlin. Inform the Russian Government at once and insist.
I made immediate representations to the Grand Duke Nicholas and General Sukhomlinov and simultaneously informed the Emperor.
This evening I am in a position to assure the French Government that the Russian army is continuing its march on Königsberg and Thorn with all possible energy and speed. An important action is about to open between the Narev and the Vkra.
This very afternoon Prince Catacuzene, an aide-de-camp of the Grand Duke Nicholas, has been brought to the French Hospital in St. Petersburg. He was shot through the chest near Gumbinnen. Doctor Cresson, the Senior Medical Officer, had a few minutes' talk with him. The wounded officer is still quivering with the ardour, the spirit of the offensive, which animates the Russian troops. He has enthusiastically affirmed that the Grand Duke Nicholas is bent on forcing his way to Berlin at any cost.
Tuesday, August 25, 1914.
The Germans have won at Charleroi. They have also inflicted a serious check upon us near Neufchâteau, south of the Belgian Ardennes. All the French and English armies are retreating on the Oise and the Semoy.
These tidings, though doctored by the censorship, have started a current of vague alarm in St. Petersburg against which I struggle to the best of my ability, availing myself of a subterfuge which Tolstoy attributes to Prince Bagration in War and Peace. It is a subterfuge that ought to find a place in the moral breviary of all Commanders-in-Chief. On the battlefield of Austerlitz the Prince was receiving one alarming message after another. He received them with the most perfect composure and even an air of approval, as if what he was being told was exactly what he had expected.
In the north of East Prussia the Russians have cut the crossings of the Alle and the Angerapp; the Germans are withdrawing towards Königsberg.
Japan declared war on Germany the day before yesterday. A Japanese squadron is bombarding Kiaochau.
Wednesday, August 26, 1914.
The French and English armies are continuing their retreat. The entrenched camp at Maubeuge is invested. An advance guard of German cavalry is passing through the suburbs of Roubaix.
I have seen to it that these events should be presented by the Russian press in the most suitable (and perhaps truest) light, i.e., as a temporary and methodical retirement, a prelude to a volte face in the near future for the purpose of a more formidable and vigorous offensive. All the papers support this theory.
The Grand Duke Nicholas has sent me a message through Sazonov:
"The withdrawal ordered by General Joffre is in conformity with all the rules of strategy. We must hope that henceforth the French army will expose itself as little as possible, refuse to let itself be broken through or demoralized and reserve all its offensive capacity and liberty to manoeuvre until the time when the Russian army is in a position to deal decisive blows."
I asked Sazonov:
"Won't that time be soon? . . . Don't forget that our losses are enormous and that the Germans are 250 kilometres from Paris! "
"I believe that the Grand Duke Nicholas has decided to start an important operation to retain the largest possible number of Germans on our front."
"Somewhere round Soldau and Mlava, no doubt
In that short answer I thought I detected a certain reticence so I begged Sazonov to be a little more explicit.
"Think what a serious moment this is for France!" I said.
"I know. I'm not forgetting what we owe France. The Tsar and the Grand Duke don't forget it either; you can count on our doing everything in our power to help the French army . . . But from the practical point of view the difficulties are great. General Jilinsky, who is commanding the north-western front, considers that an offensive in East Prussia is doomed to certain defeat. because our troops are still too scattered and their concentration is meeting with many obstacles. You know how Masuria is intersected by forests, rivers and lakes. Janushkevitch, Chief of the General Staff, shares Jilinsky's views and is protesting strongly against the offensive. But Danilov, the Quartermaster-General, is insisting, not less forcibly, that we have no right to leave our ally in danger and ought to attack at once, notwithstanding the indubitable risks of the plan. The Grand Duke Nicholas has just ordered an immediate attack. I shouldn't be surprised if the operation had already begun."
Thursday, August 27, 1914.
The Germans are at Péronne and Longwy.
A Ministry of National Defence has been established in Paris. Viviani remains President of the Council, without portfolio; Briand becomes Minister of Justice; Delcassé, Minister for Foreign Affairs; Millerand, War Minister; Ribot, Finance Minister. Two Unified Socialists, Jules Guesde and Marcel Sembat, enter the Cabinet.
This combination has produced an excellent effect here. It is interpreted as both a striking demonstration of our national solidarity and a guarantee of the inflexible resolution with which France will prosecute the war.
Friday, August 28, 1914.
The Grand Duke Nicholas has kept his word. On his imperative and repeated orders General Samsonov's five corps attacked the enemy yesterday in the Mlava-Soldau region. The point of attack has been chosen well to compel the Germans to bring up a large force, for a Russian victory in the direction of Allenstein would have the double result of clearing their path to Allenstein and cutting the line of retreat of the German army which has just been beaten at Gumbinnen.
Saturday, August 29, 1914.
The battle at Soldau is still raging furiously. Whatever may be its ultimate result it is very satisfactory that the action should be drawn out so that the French and English armies may have time to reform and advance once more.
The Russian southern armies are forty kilometres from Lemberg.
Sunday, August 30, 1914.
As I entered Sazonov's room this morning I was struck with the gloomy and strained look in his face
"Anything new?" I said.
"Aren't things going well in France?"
"The Germans are approaching Paris."
"Yes, but our armies are intact and their moral is excellent. I am confidently awaiting their volte face . . . And what about the Battle of Soldau? "
He was silent, biting his lips and with gloom written all over his face. I went on:
"A check? "
"A great disaster . . . but I've no business talking to you about it. The Grand Duke Nicholas doesn't want the news known for several days. It will get about only too soon and too fast as our losses have been ghastly."
I asked him for details but he told me he had had no precise information:
"Samsonov's army has been destroyed. That's all I know."
After a short silence he continued in a simple, natural tone:
"We owed this sacrifice to France as she has showed herself a perfect ally."
I thanked him for this thought. Then, in spite of the heavy weight we both had on our minds, we turned to the discussion of current affairs.
In the city no one as yet knows anything about the Soldau disaster but the continued retreat of the French army and the rapid march of the Germans on Paris are giving rise to the most pessimistic anticipations among the public. The leaders of the Rasputin clique are even announcing that France will soon be compelled to make peace. To the highly-placed individual who came to tell me of this I replied that the character of the statesmen who have just come into power makes such a suggestion utterly unthinkable, that in any case the game is anything but lost and perhaps the day of victory is nigh at hand.
Monday, August 31, 1914.
At Soldau the Russians have lost 110,000 men, 20,000 killed or wounded and 90,000 prisoners. Two of the five corps engaged, the XII1th and XVIth have been surrounded. All the artillery has been lost.
The anticipations of the High Command were only too accurate: the offensive was premature. The initial cause of the disaster was the inadequate concentration of the troops and the extreme difficulty in which the transport found itself in a region intersected by rivers and dotted with lakes and forests. It appears too that the disaster was aggravated by a great strategical mistake. It is said that General Artamanoff, who was in command of the left wing, fell back twenty versts without informing General Samsonoff.
One point where the battle raged most fiercely was the village of Tannenberg, thirty-five kilometres north of Soldau. It was here that in 1410 King Vladislas V of Poland overthrew the Teutonic Knights---the first victory of Slavism over Germanism. The Teutons have waited five hundred and four years for their revenge but it has been all the more terrible.
Tuesday, September 1, 1914.
Sazonov told me this morning that according to a telegram from Isvolsky the Government of the Republic has decided to remove to Bordeaux if the Commander-in-Chief considers that the higher interests of national defence compels him not to bar the German road to Paris.
"It is a grievous but splendid decision," he said to me, and one I should have expected from French patriotism."
Then he read out to me the telegrams sent on August 30 and 31 by Colonel Ignatiev, Attaché at French G.H.Q. Every word went to my heart like a knife:
The German army, turning the left flank of the French army, is advancing irresistibly on Paris by stages averaging thirty kilometres . . . In my opinion the entry of the Germans into Paris is now only a question of days unless the French have sufficient forces at their disposal to carry out a counter-attack against the turning group without running a risk of being separated from the other armies.
Fortunately he recognizes that the spirit of the troops remains excellent.
Sazonov asked me:
"Is there really no means of defending Paris? I thought that Paris was so well fortified! . I cannot hide from you that the capture of Paris would have a deplorable effect here---especially after our Soldau disaster. People are ultimately bound to find out that we have lost 110,000 men at Soldau."
Taking up Colonel Ignatiev's telegrams I combated his conclusions to the best of my ability: I asserted that the entrenched camp of Paris was strongly armed and insisted that General Galliéni's character guaranteed a stubborn resistance.
A ukase, signed yesterday evening, decrees that the city of St. Petersburg will henceforth be called Petrograd. As a political demonstration and a protest of Slav nationalism against German intrusion the step is as emphatic as opportune. But from a historical point of view it is a mistake. The present capital of the Empire is not a Slav city; it represents only the recent past of Russian life; it is situated in a Finnish region, at the gates of Finland where Swedish culture predominated so long and on the borders of the Baltic provinces where German influence still holds sway. Its architecture is wholly western, its physiognomy quite modern. That is exactly what Peter the Great desired to make St. Petersburg---a modern, western city. The name Petrograd is thus not merely a mistake but a historical contradiction in terms.
Wednesday, September 2, 1914.
The Russian General Staff's communiqué announces the Soldau disaster in the following terms:
In the south of East Prussia the Germans, disposing of very superior forces, have attacked two of our army corps which have sustained considerable losses. General Samsonov has been killed.
The public is not deceived by this economy of language. Everywhere all sorts of versions of the battle are being hawked round in undertones. The losses are put still higher. General Rennenkampf is accused of treason. It is said that the Germans have spies even among the men around General Sukhomlinov himself. It is also said that General Samsonov has not been killed but killed himself, refusing to survive the destruction of his army.
General Bielaiev, Chief of Staff of the Army at the Ministry of War, assures me that the vigorous offensive of the Russians in East Prussia and the rapidity of their advance on Lemberg are compelling the Germans to bring back east the troops which were on their way to France:
"I can assure you," he said, " that the German General Staff never expected to see us in the field straight away. They thought our mobilization and concentration would be a far slower business. They had calculated that we could not take the offensive anywhere before the 15th or 20th September, and they thought that between now and then they would have time to finish with the French army. So I consider that henceforth. the Germans have failed in the execution of their original design."
Thursday, September 3, 1914.
From the Oise to the Vosges the seven German armies, a terrible steel monster, are proceeding with their enveloping movement at a speed and with a skill in manoeuvre and a concentration of force such as no other war has ever known. At the present moment the line of the French and English armies runs thus from east to west: Belfort-Verdun-Vitry-le François-Sézanne-Meaux-Pontoise.
Fortunately in Galicia the Russians have been brilliantly successful. They entered Lemberg yesterday. The retreat of the Austro-Hungarians has assumed the character of a rout.
Since August 27 the Russians, starting from the Kovel-Rovno-Proskurov line, have advanced 200 kilometres. In this operation they have captured 70,000 men and 300 guns. On the Lublin-Kholm front the Austro-Hungarians are still offering resistance.
Friday, September 4, 1914.
The threat hanging over Paris has started a wave of pessimism in Russian society and the victory of Lemberg is almost forgotten. No one doubts that the Germans will storm the entrenched camp of Paris. And then France will be obliged to capitulate, so it is said. Germany will then bring her whole mass against Russia.
Where do these rumours come from? By whom are they spread?
Only too much light has been thrown on this subject by a conversation I have just had with one of my secret informers, N-----. I have my doubts about him, like all men of his trade, but he is well informed about what is said and done in the immediate entourage of the sovereigns. Besides, at the moment he has a special and tangible reason for telling me the truth. After praising the wonderful patriotism with which France is inspired he continued:
"I have come to your Excellency to be cheered up a little, as I shall not hide from you that I am hearing the most sinister prophecies on all sides."
"Surely they could wait for the result of the battle which is beginning on the Marne! And even if this battle turns out unfavourably for us the issue will be in no way desperate. . ."
I supported my statement with a number of facts and reasonable anticipations which left me in no doubt, so I said, of our ultimate victory so long as our sang-froid and tenacity did not fail us.
"That's true," continued N-----, "quite true! It does me good to hear you talk like this. But there's one factor you have not allowed for and which plays a large part in the pessimism I have observed in every quarter .... and particularly in high places."
"How do you mean, particularly in high places
"Yes, it's in the upper ranks of the court and society that the greatest nervousness is shown-among those who are in daily touch with the sovereigns."
"Well, because . . . because it is in that quarter that people have long been convinced that the Emperor is dogged by ill-luck. They know that he fails in everything he undertakes, that fate is always against him, in short that he is manifestly doomed to misfortune. Besides it's said that the lines of his hand are terrifying."
"Do you mean to say that people let themselves be swayed by that sort of tomfoolery!"
"What do you expect, Monsieur l'Ambassadeur? We are Russians and therefore superstitious ... Anyhow, isn't it obvious that the Tsar is predestined to disasters?"
Lowering his voice-as if he were telling me some terrible secret---and fixing me with his sharp, yellow eyes in which dull flames glowed from time to time, he gave me a list of the incredible series of accidents, miscalculations, reverses and disasters which has marked the reign of Nicholas II in the last nineteen years. The series opens with the coronation when two thousand moujiks were crushed to death in a stampede in Khodynsky meadows, near Moscow. A few weeks later the Tsar went to Kiev and saw a steamer with three hundred spectators founder in the Dnieper under his eyes. After a further few weeks he saw his favourite minister, Lobanov, die in his train quite suddenly. Living as he did in constant peril of the bombs of anarchists his whole soul was longing, for a son, a Tsarevitch. Four girls were successively born to him and when God at last gave him an heir the child bore the germ of an incurable disease. As he has no taste for either pomp or company all he desires is to forget the responsibilities of power in the tranquil delights of family life. His wife is an unhappy neurotic who carries an atmosphere of unrest and worry about with her.
But that's not all. The Tsar had dreamed of the ultimate reign of peace on earth but was dragged by a few schemers at his court into the war in the Far East. His armies were beaten, one after another, in Manchuria. His fleets were sunk, one after another, in the Chinese seas.
Then a fierce tempest of revolution swept across Russia. Risings and massacres followed each other in uninterrupted succession in Warsaw, the Caucasus, Odessa, Kiev, Vologda, Moscow, the Baltic provinces, Kharkov, St. Petersburg and Kronstadt. The murder of the Grand Duke Sergius Alexandrovitch opened the era of political assassinations. And just when the hurricane had begun to die down Stolypin, the President of the Council who was hailed as the saviour of Russia, fell one evening under the revolver of a member of the Secret Police right in front of the imperial box in Kiev theatre.
Having reached the end of this lugubrious list N----- concluded:
"Your Excellency will admit that the Tsar is doomed to misfortune and that we have a right to quake when we contemplate the prospects before us in this war."
"But it's not by quaking that one controls fate, for I'm one of those who believe that fate is obliged to reckon with us. But as you are so sensitive to evil influences have you failed to observe that to-day the Tsar has among his adversaries a man who takes second place to no one, so far as ill-luck is concerned-the Emperor Francis Joseph? There's no risk at all in a bout with him; you simply can't help winning!"
"Yes, but there's Germany, too. We're not equal to beating her!"
"No, not by yourselves. But you have France and England at your side ... So for goodness' sake don't start with the assumption that you're not equal to beating Germany. Fight with all your might, all the heroism you are capable of, and you will see that victory will seem more certain every day!"
Cardinal della Chiesa has been elected Pope. He is taking the name of Benedict XV. Since the far-away days of Gregory VII no rôle so magnificent and pre-eminent has been offered to the Vicar of Christ.
Saturday, September 5, 1914
Agreement has been reached in London as to the wording of the declaration whereby France, England and Russia engage not to make peace separately. This clause appeared in the Franco-Russian military convention of 1892. The accession of England to our alliance has made this new agreement necessary and its solemn announcement will probably have a very great effect.
The Russians have occupied Strij, eighty kilometres beyond Lemberg. Their cavalry advance-guard have approached the Carpathian passes. Vienna is in a panic.
Sunday, September 6, 1914.
At the moment the whole interest of the war is focussed on the western front. The German First Army under the command of General von Kluck, which is operating on the extreme right of the enveloping wing, has just turned suddenly southwards leaving Paris on its right, as if it were trying to outflank our left wing and throw it back over the Seine in the direction of Fontainebleau. Thus the decisive hour has struck. Is the French army going to stand fast at last? In the events now opening the stake is nothing less than the future of France, the future of Europe, the future of the world.
Monday, September 7, 1914.
In Galicia the operations of the Russian army are developing splendidly. The Austro-Hungarians have just suffered two severe reverses, one in front of Lublin and the other in the neighbourhood or Rava Russka. On the other hand the Russians are giving way before the German thrust in East Prussia.
In France the battle continues stubbornly. For the moment the Germans seem to have given up the idea of a direct attack on Paris.
Tuesday, September 8, 1914.
Maubeuge surrendered yesterday after a frightful bombardment lasting eleven days. On the rest of the front, and particularly north-cast of Paris there is violent and uninterrupted fighting. But nothing decisive has happened yet.
General Bielaiev has confided to me that Hindenburg's army, which is operating in East Prussia, has received considerable reinforcements and the Russians are compelled to evacuate the region of the Masurian Lakes.
"From the point of view of sound strategy our retreat ought to have begun several days ago, but the Grand Duke Nicholas wanted to do everything to take the weight off the French army."
Wednesday, September 9, 1914.
East of Paris, from the Ourcq to the environs of Montmirail the French and English troops are slowly advancing. A general decision cannot be far away now.
Russian public opinion, with a very true instinct, has taken far more interest in the battle of the Marne than in the victories in Galicia. It is plain that the issue of the war is being fought out on the western front. If France goes down Russia will be compelled to abandon the struggle. The fighting in East Prussia proves that afresh every day. It shows that the Russians are not in the same category as the Germans who overwhelm them by their superior tactical training, generalship and the wealth of transport facilities at their disposal. On the other hand the Russians seem to be quite equal to the Austro-Hungarians and even their superior in the matter of élan and tenacity under fire.
Thursday, September 10, 1914.
East of the Vistula, on the frontiers of western Galicia and Poland, the Russians have broken the enemy's line between Krasnik and Tomassof. But in East Prussia General Rennenkampf's army is in confusion.
From France the news is satisfactory. Our troops have crossed the Marne between Meaux and Chateau-Thierry. Outside Sézanne the Prussian Guard has been thrown back north of the marshes of St. Gond. If our right wing, the "hinge" between Bar-le-Duc and Verdun, holds firm the whole German line will be dislocated.
Friday, September 11, 1914.
Victory! We have won the Battle of the Marne! Along the whole front the German armies are retreating northwards! Paris is now out of reach! France is saved! The Russians, too, have won a great victory between Krasnik and Tomassof. The Austro-Hungarian forces, supported by German reinforcements, amounted to more than a million men. Their artillery comprised more than 2,500 guns. On the other side of the shield General Rennenkampf's army has had to evacuate East Prussia. The Germans are in occupation of Suvalki.
1. Widow of the Grand Duke Serge-Alexandrovitch, who was assassinated at Moscow on February 27.1905. She herself was murdered by the Bolsheviks on July 17, 1918.
2. As opposed to reserve corps (Tr.).
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