By Maurice Paléologue
DECEMBER 1-31, 1914
Oppressive activities of the Russian administration in Galicia.---The Germans resume the offensive in Poland; the Russians evacuate Lodz.---Pope Benedict XV and the Truce of God.---Wave of pessimism in Russian society.---Victory of the Serbs at Valievo.---The Russian operations suddenly stop.---No more rifles or ammunition.---The curse of a system.---At Kutosov's tomb.---Courage and gentleness of the Russian soldier.---Madame Vyrubova; her close friendship with the Empress.---The end of the year; gloomy forebodings.
Tuesday, December 1, 1914.
Hardly has Russian authority been established in Galicia than the officials introduce the worst practices of russification as a sort of gift of welcome.
When entering Galician territory two months ago the Grand Duke Nicholas issued a proclamation couched in generous terms:
To you, the peoples of Austria and Hungary, Russia brings freedom and the realization of your national dreams. She desires that each of you may henceforth grow and prosper, retaining the precious heritage of its language and its religion.
Of this fine programme already nothing is left. Russian nationalism stalks triumphant through Galicia.
The administrative authority is concentrated in the hands of a governor-general, Count Vladimir Alexeievitch Bobrinsky. I know him well; he's an intelligent, honest and agreeable man, but perhaps the most reactionary of all the nationalists. The basis of his creed is hatred of the Uniat religion. Now the Uniat Church has not less than 3,750,000 adherents in Galicia out of a total population of five million inhabitants.
Bobrinsky is in the habit of saying: "I recognize only three religions in eastern Europe: the orthodox, the Catholic and the Jewish. The Uniats are traitors to orthodoxy, renegades and apostates. We must bring them back into the true path by force."
Persecution began at once. Arrest of the Uniat Metropolitan, Monsignor Szeptycki; expulsion of Basilian monks; confiscation of ecclesiastical property; destruction of Ruthene missals; replacement of Uniat priests by Russian priests; carrying off Ruthene children to Kiev or Kharkov to be brought up in the orthodox faith---such is the account for these last two months on the religious side. On the political we must add the suppression of all Ruthene papers, the closing of the University and the schools, the dismissal of all Galician officials and their replacement by a horde of Russian bureaucrats.
I spoke officially to Sazonov about this situation which prejudices the future of Russian influence in these Galician districts in which the Hapsburgs have made themselves very popular.
"I'll admit," he said, " that Bobrinsky's policy is often unfortunate and that our officials are heavy-handed. But don't expect me to take up the cudgels for the Uniats! I respect the Roman Catholics, though I regret they have fallen into error. But I hate and despise the Uniats because they are renegades."
The other day the Grand Duke Nicholas was complaining of the delay in the arrival of supplies for the army in Galicia: "I'm expecting trainloads of ammunition. They send me trainloads of priests!"
Wednesday, December 2, 1914.
The situation of the Russian armies in Poland is becoming difficult. North of Lodz the Germans have received reinforcements from the western front and are decidedly getting the upper hand.
General Rennenkampf has been relieved of his command as it was his slowness which caused the failure of the fine enveloping movement of November 25.
The Germans claim to have captured 80,000 unwounded Russians in the last fortnight.
Also the moral of Russia is far from improving. The pessimism I see about me is reported to be prevalent in Moscow. Kiev and Odessa also.
As one would expect, Count Witte exploits it to rail against the war. His line at the moment is to attribute to the "calculated inertia of the French army" the scale and violence of the offensive the Russians are now having to withstand in Poland. With his haughty scorn and sardonic sneer he goes about saying: "The French are quite right not to fight any more as the Russians are stupid enough to let themselves be killed instead."
I have had great difficulty in procuring the insertion in the press of several notes or articles setting out the great scale of our material and moral effort. Not one of the papers has had the honesty to reveal the fact that if the Russians have to deal with twenty-one German corps (not counting the Austro-Hungarians) the French and English are faced with no less than fifty-two.
Saturday, December 5, 1914.
Between Lodz and Lowicz stubborn fighting is still continuing; the Russians are giving way.
The Grand Duke Nicholas has had me informed that he is as determined as ever to pursue his advance on Silesia; but his Chief of Staff, General Janushkevitch, sees a fatal obstacle in the transport difficulty and the high wastage. In the course of the last five weeks the Russians have lost 530,000 men---280,000 of them against the Germans.
Sunday, December 6, 1914.
The Russians have evacuated Lodz; the Germans entered it at once.
It is no small loss to our Allies. Lodz has not less than 380,000 inhabitants, i.e., the populations of Lille and Roubaix combined. It is the centre of the textile industry, the Manchester of Poland.
South east of Cracow the Austro-Hungarians are retreating.
Pope Benedict XV has asked the Russian Government if it will consent to a suspension of hostilities during Christmas Day.
While thanking the Holy Father for this merciful thought the Imperial Government has replied that it could not agree to an armistice, first because the orthodox Christmas does not coincide with the Catholic Christmas, and secondly because it could place no faith in any undertaking given by Germany.
When Sazonov told me of this answer I was extremely sorry:
"The idea of a ' truce of God' was splendid; you ought to have accepted it. There's nothing in your point about the two calendars; you could have claimed a second armistice on your own Christmas Day, thirteen days later. And as for Germany violating the armistice, she'd have raised the conscience of the world against her and alienated all that moral force for which the Papacy still stands."
Sazonov replied in jerky, impatient tones:
"No, no! It was impossible. . . impossible!"
The discussion was evidently not to his liking. In his uncompromising attitude I recognized the ancient enmity between the Eastern Church and the Church of Rome. Besides, the Holy Synod must have intervened with all its routine intolerance against the step taken by the Pope. All the same I ventured further:
"The Holy See can go much further along the lines it is asking us to make possible. . . . If it utters a word of pity or reproof now and then the war may possibly become less inhuman. Here's one example: isn't it a terrible thing that the wounded who fall in the wire in front of the trenches cannot be assisted and that their groans and cries for help are heard for days and days? . . . And what about the fate of prisoners? And the bombardment of open towns? What a field of action for the mediation of the Holy See! We simply must not discourage it in its first step!"
But I felt that I was speaking to no purpose.
Tuesday, December 8, 1914.
I am getting reports from many quarters that the Russian army is running short of gun ammunition and rifles. I have been to General Sukhomlinov, the War Minister, to ask him for definite information on this matter.
He gave me a very friendly reception. Between his heavy eyelids a winking smile made the little wrinkles on his brows contract. His whole personality breathes physical exhaustion and deceit.
I questioned him very closely. He kept on answering
"Don't worry; I've prepared for everything," and he produced to me the most comforting figures.
Then, taking me to a long table laden with maps he described the operations in progress in Poland. With a fat, quivering finger he showed me all the fronts and pointed out all the objectives:
"You see," he said, "how the left wing of our armies is making rapid progress towards Upper Silesia while leaving only a small force to contain the Austro-Hungarians in the south. The Grand Duke Nicholas's plan is to develop his offensive by this left wing with the greatest possible intensity, even if the German thrust in the direction of Warsaw compels the right wing to dig in between the Vistula and the Warta. So all's going well; I'm sure we shall hear some very good news before long."
As I took my leave he gave me a sly look I shall never forget.
Wednesday, December 9, 1914.
The uncertainty shrouding the military operations in Poland, the only too justifiable presentiments of enormous losses suffered by the Russian armies, and last but not least the evacuation of Lodz have led to a profound melancholy among the public. Everyone I meet is downhearted. The signs of depression are to be seen not merely in drawing-rooms and clubs, but in public offices, shops and in the streets as well.
This afternoon I went into an antiquary's shop on the Liteïny. After a few minutes' bargaining over something or other he asked me with a look of horror in his face:
"When will this dreadful war end? Is it true that we have lost a million men round Lodz?"
"A million! Who told you that? Your losses are serious, but I can assure you they are nowhere near that figure. . . . Have you sons or relatives in the army? "
"No, thank God! . . . But this war is too long, too terrible. Besides, we shall never beat the Germans. Then why not have done with it at once? "
I revived his faith to the best of my ability and showed him that we should certainly win if we held on. He listened to me with a sceptical, frightened look. When I stopped he continued:
"You French may be victorious, perhaps---but not we Russians! The game's lost. Then why in God's name let all these men be massacred? Why not have done with it at once?"
How many more Russians must be arguing like that at the present moment? What a strange mentality this nation has, a nation capable of such sublime sacrifices and yet so prone to despondency, self-desertion and anticipatory resignation to the worst misfortunes!
When I returned to the Embassy I found old Baron von H----- who was a force in the political world some ten years ago, but since then has confined himself to the pleasures and trivialities of the social world. He spoke about military events.
"Things are going very badly. . . . No good deluding ourselves I . . . The Grand Duke Nicholas is incompetent! . . . The battle of Lodz: madness, disaster! . . . Our losses more than a million! We shall never get the better of the Germans again. . . . We must begin to think of peace."
I pointed out that the three Allied countries are bound to continue the war until the defeat of Germany as nothing less than their independence and national integrity is at stake. I added that a humiliating peace would inevitaby provoke a revolution in Russia, and what a revolution! I said that I also had unlimited confidence in the loyalty of the Emperor to our common cause.
H----- continued, in a low voice, as if we might be overheard:
"Oh! The Emperor . . . the Emperor. . . "
He stopped. I pressed him.
"What do you mean? Go on."
He resumed, looking very uncomfortable, as he was treading on dangerous ground:
"At the moment the Emperor is very angry with Germany; but he'll soon realize that he's leading Russia to destruction. . . . He'll be made to realize it. . . . I can hear that low hound, Rasputin, telling him: ' Well, how much longer are you going to spill the blood of your people? Don't you see that God is abandoning you? On that day peace will be at hand, Monsieur l'Ambassadeur."
At this point I broke off our conversation in a sharp tone:
"It's all silly talk. . . . The Emperor has sworn on the Holy Gospels and the ikon of Our Lady of Kazan that he will never sign peace so long as there is a single enemy soldier on Russian soil. You'll never make me believe that he won't keep such an oath. Don't forget that the day he swore it he insisted on my being with him as witness and guarantor of his undertaking before God. On that point he will always be immovable. He would face death rather than break his word."
Thursday, December 10, 1914.
The Serbians have inflicted a defeat on the Austro-Hungarians near Valievo. The enemy left 20,000 prisoners and fifty guns in the hands of the victors.
The French Government returned to Paris yesterday.
Saturday, December 12, 1914.
General de Laguiche writes to me from General Headquarters:
Events are taking a favourable turn in the Cracow district. In the north the status quo is maintained on the Ilno-Lowicz-Petrokov line, and I think that the positions contemplated have been reached there. Evidently operations will be less active there than on the Silesian side.
Monday, December 4, 1914.
Has the Russian offensive towards Silesia already been checked? Yesterday they suffered a severe reverse south of the Vistula, near Limanova, which has freed Cracow and seems bound to react on the whole South Poland front. Nothing is being said about this defeat.
At the present time the Emperor is on a visit to the Caucasus front where operations are developing successfully.
Tuesday, December 15, 1914.
In Western Galicia the Russians are falling back towards the Vistula along the whole line. This retreat means the end of the offensive against Silesia.
Prince von Bülow has been appointed Ambassador in Rome. The great game between Germany and Italy is about to begin.
Wednesday, December 16, 1914.
The series of successes which the Germans have obtained in Masuria and Poland during the last four months have all been produced by "railway strategy," that is the swift and secret transfer of a mass of manoeuvre to another part of the front for an unexpected blow. The great network of lines which run parallel to, and behind, the frontiers of Prussia, Posen and Silesia, enable these great lateral movements to be carried out in a few days, whereas the Russian General Staff needs several weeks for the slightest change in the redistribution of its troops on the line of battle.
Thursday, December 17, 1914.
The Grand Duke Nicholas has informed me with great regret that he has been obliged to discontinue his operations: the reason he gives for this decision is the excessive losses his troops have recently sustained and the fact---more serious still---that the artillery has used up all its ammunition.
I have complained to Sazonov of the situation thus brought to my notice and my tone was pretty sharp:
"General Sukhomlinov has assured me a dozen times," I said, "that all precautions had been taken to secure that the Russian artillery should always have an abundant supply of ammunition. . . . I have emphasized to him the enormous consumption which has become the normal scale of battles. He has vowed that he was in a position to satisfy all requirements and meet all eventualities. He even gave me written proof. Please mention the matter on my behalf to the Emperor."
"I won't fail to tell His Majesty what you've just told Me.
We left it at that. Sazonov's opinion of Sukhomlinov's character is a sufficient guarantee that he will make the most of my complaint.
Friday, December 18, 1914.
I learned yesterday that the Russian artillery is short of ammunition; I learn this morning that the infantry is short of rifles!
I went at once to General Bielaiev, Army Chief of Staff at the Ministry for War, and asked him for an explanation.
A hard worker and the soul of conscience and honour, he made a clean breast of everything:
"Our losses in men have been colossal, though if it were merely a matter of replacing wastage we could soon do so as we have more than 800,000 men in our depots. But we're short of rifles to arm and train these men. Our original reserve was 5,600,000 rifles; at least we thought so. The Grand Duke Nicholas thought so; I thought so myself. We have been criminally deceived: our magazines are nearly empty. Forgive me for giving no further explanation of a very painful matter. To make good the deficit we are about to purchase a million rifles in Japan and America and we hope to arrive at an output of one hundred thousand a month in our own factories. Perhaps France and England could also let us have a few hundred thousand. The position is hardly less difficult as regards gun ammunition. The consumption has surpassed all our calculations and anticipations. At the beginning of the war we had 5,200,000 rounds of 76 mm. shrapnel in our arsenal. Our entire reserve is exhausted. The armies need 45,000 rounds per day. Our maximum daily output is 13,000: we hope it will reach 20,000 about February 15. Until that date the situation of our armies will not only be difficult but dangerous. In March the deliveries on orders we have placed abroad will begin to arrive; I presume we shall thus have 27,000 rounds a day about April 15 and 40,000 after May 15. . . . That is all I can tell you, Monsieur l'Ambassadeur. I have kept nothing from you."
I thanked him for his candour, made some notes and withdrew.
Outside, under a dull grey, leaden sky an icy wind viciously lashed the banks of the Neva, whirling the snowflakes before it. The wintry desolation of the great river, frozen as far as the eye could reach between its granite quays, had never before seemed so utterly inhuman; the landscape seemed the visual embodiment of all the tragedy, the element of implacable and remorseless destiny in the history of the Russian nation.
Saturday, December 19, 1914.
To-day is the Emperor's name day. A thanksgiving service has been held at Our Lady of Kazan. All the court dignitaries, ministers, high officials and the diplomatic corps have attended in full dress. The public thronged the far end of the nave between the two noble rows of columns in pairs.
In the dazzling blaze of the candelabra and candles, the glittering of the ikons---one mass of gold and precious stones---the national sanctuary is a superb edifice. Throughout the service the anthems followed each other with a wealth of melody, perfection of execution, breadth and solemnity which attained the highest pitch of religious emotion.
Towards the end of the ceremony I singled out Goremykin, the President of the Council, and drawing him behind a pillar I taxed him with the inadequate military support given by Russia to our common cause. Buchanan and Sazonov were listening and joined in the conversation. In his slow, sceptical way Goremykin tried to defend Sukhomlinov:
"But there's the same shortage of munitions in France and England as well! Yet your industries are far better equipped than ours and your machine-tool industry is on a far higher level! And how could anyone anticipate such a prodigal expenditure of ammunition?"
"I don't blame General Sukhomlinov," I protested, "for not having foreseen before the war that every battle would mean a perfect orgy of ammunition; nor do I blame him for the delays inevitably involved in the backward state of your industries. But I do blame him for having done nothing to avert the present crisis in the three months since I told him, from General Joffre, that it was coming. . . . And the shortage of rifles! Isn't that even more criminal? "
Goremykin made a formal protest in evasive language and weary gestures. Buchanan supported me vigorously. Sazonov acquiesced by his silence.
What a strange phenomenon was this discussion between allies in the church to which Field-Marshal Prince Kutusov came to pray before starting for the war of 1812---within two paces of his tomb and under the trophies abandoned by the French during the retreat from Russia!
Sunday, December 20, 1914.
I hear from many quarters that in intellectual and liberal circles there is a good deal of criticism of France, criticism as malevolent as unjust and acrimonious.
Waves of francophobia have swept over Russia four or five times since the last years of the great Catherine. French ideas, fashions and manners have periodically irritated the Russians. The last wave, to which the present symptoms are related, only affected the Intelligentsia who have never forgiven us for giving financial assistance to Tsarism and thus strengthening the autocratic regime.
In 1906 Maxim Gorky had the insolence to write:
This is what you have done, Oh France, you, the mother of Liberty! Your venal hand has closed the highway to independence for a whole nation. But no! The day of our emancipation will not be postponed though it will cost us far more blood, through your fault. May that blood stain your flaccid, lying cheeks! As for me I spit in your face, my loved one of yore!
At the present time a silly charge is added to the grievance of the loans. It is France which has dragged Russia into the war in order to recover Alsace-Lorraine for herself at the price of Russian lives.
I am doing what I can to counteract these tendencies, but my activities are necessarily limited and secret. If I have too much to do with liberal circles I shall become an object of suspicion to the Government party and the Emperor. I shall also put a formidable weapon in the hands of the reactionaries of the Extreme Right and the gang around the Empress who are preaching that the alliance with republican France is a mortal peril to orthodox Tsarism and that the only path to safety lies in a reconciliation with German Kaiserism.
Monday, December 21, 1914.
During my call on Madame Goremykin, a kind old lady who looks very attractive under her crown of white hair, her husband came in to join us at tea. I remarked in a tone of friendly reproach:
"In Our Lady of Kazan yesterday you struck me as taking the military situation remarkably calmly."
He answered in his feeble, deceitful voice:
"What do you expect? I'm so old! I ought to have been in my coffin long ago! I told the Emperor so only the other day; but His Majesty wouldn't listen to me. . . And perhaps, after all, it's as well as it is. At my age men don't try and change the order of things more than is necessary. . . ."
Thinking over this sceptical remark this evening I wondered whether it were not less ill-timed than I thought at first and whether, if confined to the Russian Empire, it did not contain a substantial element of wisdom. The words of Joseph de Maistre came to my mind: Woe to bad governments! Triple woe to bad governments which desire to mend their ways!
Tuesday, December 22, 1914.
The public have now known for two days that the Russian operations have been stayed and in the absence of official news the situation is supposed to be worse than it really is. For this reason General Headquarters decided to-day to issue the following communication:
The taking up of a shorter front by our armies is the result of the unfettered decision of the military authority. The movement is a natural one and the consequence of the concentration of very large German forces against us. This decision will also bring us further advantages. Unfortunately it is impossible to furnish public opinion with explanations of a military nature.
This communiqué, with its clumsy wording, has produced an unfortunate effect. Everyone is thinking "Things must be going badly if that's all they can tell us! "
Wednesday, December 23, 1914.
Madame P----- (Sister in charge of a front line hospital), who has just returned from Poland tells me that the courage and élan of the Russian troops are altogether splendid. Yet no trial is spared them: furious and uninterrupted fighting, frightful losses from artillery fire, wearying marches in the snow, the ghastly sufferings of the wounded owing to the transport difficulty and the terrible cold, &c.
She also gave me several curious examples of the gentleness displayed by the Russian soldier to Austrian and German prisoners.
It is a feature of the national temperament: the Russian has no bellicose instincts and a very warm heart. Contrasted with the German national epics the Russian bylinas are very eloquent from this point of view. They never glorify war and their heroes, their bogatyrs, are always in the role of the defender. The Russian peasant is also naturally charitable. A moujik must be absolutely penniless to refuse alms to anyone asking him "in the name of Christ"! And he is immediately stirred to the depths at the sight of poverty, disease or a prisoner.
It is this evangelical instinct which makes the Russian soldier so ready for reconciliation and fraternization with his foe. During the 1812 retreat the French had a horrible taste of the savagery of the Cossacks and the cupidity of the Jews; but they almost invariably received sympathy and help from the regular soldiery and the peasants. There is plenty of evidence on this point. During the Crimean War also invitations to fraternize came from the Russian trenches whenever there was the slightest suspension of hostilities.
Thursday, December 24, 1914.
General de Laguiche, writing from Baranovici, has confirmed General Bielaiev's revelations. The reason for the suspension of the Russian operations is not the size of the German forces, but the total lack of gun ammunition and rifles. The Grand Duke Nicholas is reduced to despair but is doing everything he can to remedy this grave situation.
Several thousand rifles have already been made available as the result of stringent orders. The output of the national factories is to be raised. Meanwhile military operations are to be continued so far as practicable. The invasion of Germany is still the objective.
Saturday, December 26, 1914
On his return from the Caucasus the Emperor has stayed in Moscow. He had a most enthusiastic reputation and had a chance of seeing for himself the fine spirit with which all grades of Moscow society are inspired.
All the Moscow papers have fastened on the occasion to affirm that the war must be fought out until the defeat of Teutonism; several have remarked, very happily, that to attain that end a "flash of enthusiasm" is not enough; what is needed is stubbornness of will, inexhaustible patience and a determination to face and accept immense sacrifices.
The Emperor has several times said to those around him:
"I feel I'm really at the heart of my people here! The atmosphere is as wholesome and bracing as at the front."
Sunday, December 27, 1914.
Everyone who spoke to the Emperor at Moscow talked of Constantinople, and all in the same strain:
"The acquisition of the Straits is of vital interest to the Empire, far more important than all the territorial advantages Russia may obtain at the expense of Germany or Austria. . . . The neutralization of the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles would be an imperfect, hybrid compromise, fraught with peril for the future. . . . Constantinople must be a Russian city. . . . The Black Sea must become a Russian lake . . . ...
A French manufacturer who has come from Kharkov and Odessa tells me that the same thing is being said there. But whereas the historical, political, and mystical aspects inspire Moscow, it is the commercial argument which appeals to southern Russia. The corn of the tchernoziom and the Donetz coal basin are responsible for the cry for the Mediterranean.
Monday, December 28, 1914.
It is becoming ever clearer that there are two currents in Russian public opinion---one flowing on towards bright horizons and beckoning conquests, Constantinople, Thrace, Armenia, Trebizond, Persia . . . the other beating against the invincible obstacle of the Teutonic cliff and ebbing back to gloomy prospects ending in pessimism, a feeling of impotence and resignation.
The really curious point is that these two currents run side by side, or at any rate frequently alternate, in the same individual, as if they both satisfied the two outstanding propensities of the Russian soul---dreams and disillusionment.
Tuesday, December 29, 1914.
What a curious person Madame Anna Alexandrovna Vyrubova is! She is not titled, holds no office, receives no salary and appears at no ceremonies. This perpetual self-effacement and utter disinterestedness are her whole capital with the sovereigns, so accustomed to the importunity of place-hunters and self-seekers. She is the daughter of Taneïev, Director of the Emperor's Privy Seal Office, and has practically no money. It is all that the Empress can do to get her occasionally to accept some cheap jewel, or a dress or cloak.
Physically she is coarse and heavily-built, with a round head, fleshy lips, limpid eyes devoid of expression, a full figure and a high colour. She is thirty-two years of age. She dresses with a thoroughly provincial plainness and is very devout, but unintelligent. I have met her twice at the house of her mother, Madame Taneïev (née Tolstoy), who, by contrast, is well-informed and distinguished. We had a long talk together. Anna Alexandrovna struck me as unattractive and very dull-witted. As a girl she was maid-of-honour to the Empress who arranged her marriage with a naval officer, Lieutenant Vyrubova. After a few days of married life came divorce.
At the present time Madame Vyrubova lives at Tsarskoïe-Selo in a very modest villa at the corner of the Sredniaya and the Zerkovnaya, 200 metres from the Imperial Palace. In spite of all the decrees of etiquette the Empress frequently pays prolonged calls on her friend; she has even reserved a room for her in the palace itself. The result is that the two women are nearly always together. In any case Madame Vyrubova regularly spends the evening with the sovereigns and their children. No one else ever enters the family circle. They play draughts and patience, do puzzles; occasionally a little music. Highly proper novels, English novels for preference, are read aloud. When the children have gone to bed Madame Vyrubova stays with the sovereigns until midnight and thus takes part in all their conversation, always on Alexandra-Feodorovna's side. As the Emperor never ventures to decide anything without his wife's opinion, or rather approval, the net result is that it is the Empress and Madame Vyrubova who really govern Russia!
Princess R----- said to me when I was discussing the imperial court with her recently:
"Isn't it grievous to think that the masters of Russia live in such an atmosphere? It's as if they lived in rooms which are never aired. Just think, no on I mean it, no one ever sees them alone or lunches with them or goes for a walk with them, or dines with them or spends an evening with them . . . not a soul except Anna Vyrubova! When I remember what my parents told me of the courts of Alexander II and Alexander III it makes me want to cry. No doubt they had their intrigues, feuds, favouritism and even scandals, as all courts have. But at any rate there was some life about them. The monarchs were approachable; you could talk quite freely with them so that they learned a good deal. In turn you got to know---and like them. But now . . . what a contrast, what a lapse! . . ."
How can one place Madame Vyrubova,? What is the hidden motive for her behaviour? What is her object? What are her hopes? The favourite description of her is that she is an intriguer. But it's a curious sort of intriguer who despises honours and refuses reward! Before I met her I thought her character must have some resemblance to that of the Princesse des Ursins. I was very wide of the mark and owe a humble apology to the memory of the famous camerera mayor! She directed the married life of Philip V and Marie Louise, of course. But Saint-Simon has written of her "that she had an air of noble dignity which attracted rather than repelled," and even if she may be charged with great ambitions they were at any rate "vast ambitions, far higher than those of her sex." Lastly, she combined a genius for political intrigue with the highest and most brilliant qualities of mind, not to mention a charm of manner which survived to her old age. Compared to that splendid specimen of womanhood the Vyrubova cuts a very poor figure. To account for her position and importance in the imperial palace perhaps it is enough to refer to her personal devotion to the Empress, the devotion of a servile and inferior being to a royal lady who is always ailing, weighed down by her own power, a lady who is a prey to all sorts of terrors and feels that some horrible fate is for ever hanging over her.
Wednesday, December 30, 1914.
Nicholas Maklakov, the Minister of the Interior, has told me of something that happened to him when he was travelling recently, an incident which brings out a curious side of Russian mentality:
"I was coming back in a troika from Jaroslavl," he said. "I was alone, and when barely a dozen versts from my destination I was caught in a snowstorm. You couldn't see two paces ahead; that didn't prevent my coachman from whipping up his horses to try and reach the town before nightfall. Before long he had lost his way: he hesitated, turned to the right, then to the left. I was beginning to get uneasy. particularly as the storm got very much worse. Suddenly the vehicle stopped. My man crossed himself vigorously three times and muttered a prayer. Then throwing his reins over the shafts he yelled at his horses: 'Gee up! Gee up! Come on, lads! Come on, little brothers!' The three horses pricked up their ears, snorted, shook their heads this way and that and then galloped off through the blinding snowflakes. My driver turned round to me and said:
" See, barin, when you've lost your way the best thing to do is to trust to your beasts and the grace of God!"
An hour later I was in Jaroslavl.
I replied to Maklakov:
"Your fable's very poetic; but I'll admit I should have liked it better in peace time."
Thursday, December 31, 1914.
In an hour's time 1914 will be over.
The exile's melancholy lot!
Since this war first turned the world upside down events have already so often upset the most rational calculations and mocked at the most prudent anticipations that one cannot venture into prophecy, except within the limits of near horizons and immediate contingencies.
This afternoon, however, I have had a long and frank talk with the Swiss Minister, Odier. The exchange of information, interchange of ideas and difference in our points of view have widened my horizon somewhat. Odier has a lucid and accurate mind, and he combines a strong sense of reality with a wealth of experience. We came to the conclusion that Germany made a serious mistake in thinking she could finish the war straight off; that it will be a very, very long struggle and that victory will ultimately rest with the most tenacious of the combatants.
The war will thus become a war of attrition and the attrition, alas, must be complete, involving the exhaustion of food supplies, industrial machinery and products, man power and moral forces! And it is plain that it is the moral forces which will bring about the decision in the last desperate hour.
Looked at from this point of view the problem cannot be regarded as other than an anxious one for Russia. Russia is so prone to lose heart, to fluctuate in her desires and grow weary of her dreams. Notwithstanding its splendid gifts of heart and mind no nation records so many bankruptcies and miscarriages in its moral life as the Russian. One of the types which crops up most frequently in Russian literature is the desperate man, the man resigned to anything and everything, the "failure." I was recently reading a moving passage in a book of Tchekov's, the novelist who, next to Tolstoy and Dostoievsky, has given the best analysis of the Russian soul:
Why do we tire so soon? How is it that after squandering so much fervour, passion, and faith we almost always go to ruin before the age of thirty . And when we fall how is it that we never try to rise again?
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