By Maurice Paléologue
OCTOBER 27-NOVEMBER 22, 1916.
The Empress's increasing influence on the government of the Empire.---Strikes in Petrograd: the troops fire on the police.---Frequency of divorce in Russian society; deterioration of moral standards since Anna Karenina.--Count Witte's crime in 1914.---The Central Powers proclaim the autonomy of Russian Poland under an hereditary monarchy.---Indignation in Petrograd and Moscow at this news.---Protopopov's reactionary policy: memories of the "Black Bands."---Opening of the Duma: the government's declaration; the ministers leave the chamber; Miliukov's violent indictment of Sturmer; various expressions of public opinion.---Frequency of suicide in Russia; a symptom of social disintegration.---The magician, Papus, and the Russian sovereigns: a spiritualistic séance at Tsarskoïe-Selo in 1905; a prophecy of revolution.---Death of the Emperor Francis Joseph.
Friday, October 27, 1916.
This afternoon the Grand Duchess Marie opened an exhibition at the corner of the Champ-de-Mars and the Moika, of prosthetic appliances for facial injuries. She asked me to meet her there.
The weather outside was depressing in the extreme. Through a sky which was the colour of slate or lead filtered a dull, wan, pallid light, the kind of light that accompanies an eclipse. The surface of the great square was simply a marsh of slimy mud and brackish pools. Snowflakes were slowly whirling. In the background the Expiatory Church of the Resurrection was wrapped in mist like a transparent veil.
I went through the various rooms with the Grand Duchess. The wan light which came through the windows made this melancholy exhibition seem still more depressing. In every showcase photographs, plaster masks and wax figures alternated with appliances for demonstrating their working and uses. All these torn and battered faces, with bones fractured or missing and in some cases deprived of all resemblance to the human countenance, made a loathsome picture for which no word can be found in any tongue. The most disordered imagination could not conceive such a museum of horrors. Goya himself has never reached such nightmare heights: those terrible etchings in which he delights to depict scenes of massacre and torture pale beside these monstrous realities.
The Grand Duchess was heaving sighs of pity or covering her eyes with her hand the whole time. When we had been through all the galleries she rested for a few minutes in a private room. She made me sit down beside her and then, assuming a casual expression, as we were under observation, she murmured:
"Please say something comforting, mon cher ambassadeur! I was terribly depressed when I arrived and now these horrible sights make me feel simply overwhelmed. DO cheer me up at once!"
"But why were you so depressed when you arrived?"
"Because . . . because . . . Need I tell you?"
Then she rapidly gave me a list of the reasons for her anxiety. On the Russian front Brussilov's offensive is held up, without any decisive result. In Rumania disaster is inevitable and imminent. At home war-weariness, despondency and anger are growing every day. The winter is beginning under the most sinister auspices.
I cheered her up with several variations on my usual theme. "Whatever may happen," I said, "France and England will go on fighting until complete victory. That victory cannot escape them now, as it is perfectly clear that Germany is as incapable of crushing them as of carrying on the war indefinitely. If Russia deserted her allies to-day, which is unthinkable, she would at once find herself in the camp of the vanquished. It would mean not only eternal disgrace for her, but national suicide." I ended by asking her a question:
"Is the explanation of your anxiety that you have lost confidence in the Emperor?"
Taken aback by the suddenness of my question, she fixed a haggard eye upon me for a moment. Then she answered in a low tone:
"The Emperor? I shall always believe in him. But there's the Empress as well. I know both of them well. The worse things get, the greater will be Alexandra Feodorovna's influence, because her will is active, aggressive and restless. His will, on the other hand, is merely negative. When he ceases to believe in himself and thinks God has abandoned him, he does not try to assert himself, but merely wraps himself up in a dull and resigned obstinacy. Just see how powerful the Empress already is! Before long she'll be the sole ruler of Russia!"
Saturday, October 28, 1916.
I have been thinking over my talk with the Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna yesterday.
The fact is that making allowances for her mystical aberrations, the Empress is a stronger character than the Emperor, her will is more tenacious, her mind more active, her virtues more positive and her whole spirit more militant and regal. Her idea of saving tsarism by bringing it back to the traditions of theocratic absolutism is madness, but the proud obstinacy she displays is not without an element of grandeur. The rôle she has assumed in affairs of state is disastrous,, but she certainly plays it like a tsarina. When she appears in "that terrible valley of Josaphat," vietoï oujassnoï doline josaphata, of which Rasputin is always telling her, she will be able to point not only to the irreproachable honesty of her intentions but also to the fact that her actions have been absolutely consistent with the principles of divine right on which Russian autocracy is founded.
Tuesday, October 31, 1916.
For the last two days all the factories in Petrograd have been on strike. The workmen left the shops without giving any reason, and simply on an order issued by some mysterious committee.
This evening there was a dinner in Motono's honour at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
As I finished dressing at half-past seven, I was told that two French industrials, Sicaut and Beaupied, were asking to see me. They are representatives of the "Louis Renault " motor-car house and in charge of a large factory in the Viborg quarter.
1 received them at once. They said to me
"Monsieur l'Ambassadeur, you know we've never had anything but praise for our workpeople, because they've never had anything but praise for us. So they've refused to join in the general strike. While work was in full swing this afternoon, a party of strikers from the Baranovsky works besieged our establishment, shouting: 'Down with the French! No more war!' Our engineers and foremen wanted to parley with them. They were received with stones and revolver shots. One French engineer and three French foremen were seriously wounded. The police had meanwhile arrived and soon realized that they could not cope with the situation. A squad of gendarmes then succeeded in forcing a way through the crowd, and went to fetch two infantry regiments which are in barracks quite near. The two regiments appeared a few minutes later, but instead of raising the siege of our factory they fired on the police."
"On the police!"
"Yes, Monsieur l'Ambassadeur; you can see the bullet marks on our walls. . . . A number of gorodovoï and gendarmes were killed. A stand-up fight followed. At length we heard the gallop of the Cossacks, four regiments of them. They charged the infantrymen and drove them back to their barracks at the point of the lance. Order has now been restored."
I thanked them for their promptness in letting me know of the incident, as it would enable me to tell the President of the Council all about it to-night.
At the Ministry the scene was as sumptuous as at the recent dinner to Prince Kanin. After greeting Madame Sturmer, I took the President of the Council aside and told him of what had just occurred at the Renault works. He tried to demonstrate that it is a trivial episode, adding that the Prefect of Police had already reported the matter to him on the telephone, and that all measures had been taken to protect the works.
"The fact remains that the troops fired on the police," I said. "That's what makes it so serious---extremely serious."
"Yes, it's serious; but it will be punished mercilessly."
I left him to his guests, who were pouring in. To reach our places at table we had to pass through a forest of palms. There were so many of them and their foliage was so luxuriant that it was like being in a jungle.
I sat between Madame Narishkin, Grand Mistress of the Court, and Lady Georgina Buchanan. Madame Narishkin, a worthy and congenial dowager, told me of her life at Tsarskoïe-Selo. 'Maid of Honour to Their Majesties the Empresses,' ' Lady of the Order of Saint Catherine,' and 'High Excellency,' she carries her seventy-four years with a pleasant and kindly grace which likes nothing better than "reminiscing." This evening she was in a disconsolate mood.
"My duties as Grand Mistress make practically no demand on my time. Every now and then I have a private audience or a family function; that's all. When the Emperor returns from the Stavka he sees no one except in working hours and shuts himself up in his private apartments. The Empress is almost always ill.... She is greatly to be pitied."
She then told me of the many charitable organizations in which she is interested., homes for the aged, war hospitals, schools for apprentices, rescue work among prisoners. and so on.
"You can see that I'm not idle," she said. "In the evening, after dinner, I always go to see my old friends, the Benckendorffs. Like myself, they reside in the palace, but at the other end. We talk about the present, but not much, and a lot about the past. I leave them about midnight. To reach my room I have to pass through the endless series of huge rooms you have seen. At long intervals there's an electric light. An old servant goes in front of me to open the doors. It's a long walk and anything but enlivening. I often wonder whether these rooms will ever see the splendours and glories of other days again. What a multitude of things are coming to an end, Ambassador! And such a bad end! I oughtn't to say that to you. But we all regard you as a real friend and think aloud in your presence."
I thanked her for her trust in me and took advantage of it to tell her that the sky would soon clear if the Emperor worked together with his people and appealed straight to the national conscience. She replied:
"That's what we sometimes tell him---very cautiously. He listens to us quietly---and talks of something else."
And imitating her august master she too talked of something else.
I incidentally uttered the name of the lovely Marie Alexandrovna D-----, formally Countess K-----, whose delicate purity of form and supple harmony of line always remind me of Houdon's Diane. Madame Narishkin remarked:
"That charming lady has followed the new and universal fashion. She's divorced her husband. What for? Nothing! Sergei Alexandrovitch K----- was a model husband to her; she never had any complaint against him. But one day she fell in love, or thought she fell in love with D-----, a mediocrity and inferior in every way to Sergei Alexandrovitch, and though she has had two daughters by the latter she left him to marry the other. I can assure you that in the old days divorces were very rare; there had to be very serious and quite exceptional reasons. The position of a divorced woman was as difficult as possible."
"I admit that the frequency of divorce is one of the things that have struck me most here. The other day I was calculating that in more than half the ménages in my social circle there are one or two divorced spouses. Have you observed, Madame, that no one understands the story of Anna Karenina nowadays? And yet I believe the book was only written in 1876! To-day, Anna Karenina would have immediately divorced her husband and married Vronsky, and there the story would have ended."
"That's perfectly true! It gives you an idea of what a social scourge divorce has become."
"Isn't the Holy Synod largely responsible? After all, it alone grants divorces, its exclusive right."
"Unfortunately the Holy Synod is not the great moral authority it used to be."
I refrained from quoting to Madame Narishkin Seneca's remark about the young patrician women of his day: "They reckon their age not by the consulates, but by their marriages; they divorce to marry and marry to divorce."
Dinner ended at last. We had been at table an hour and a half!
In the smokeroom I tackled Sturmer about the strikes and incidents of this afternoon. But his reception had made him so pleased and proud that I did not succeed in damping his optimism.
Wednesday, November 1, 1916.
For the last five days the Salonica army has been attacking the Bulgarians without respite. The main operation is developing in the lower bend of the Cerna; its objective is Monastir.
Thursday, November 2, 1916.
Viscount Motono, who has been to present his letters of recall to the Emperor, has been giving me his impressions of the Stavka.
"I have no doubt," he said, "that the Emperor is determined to continue the war at any cost. He told me so in terms, and with an accent of sincerity, which would have convinced the most sceptical. So I exclude any possibility of a separate, or even premature, peace. But I have observed once more how ill-informed the Emperor is, and what little interest he takes in affairs of State. He did not seem to realize that I have been called upon to direct the foreign policy of my country and that there is a certain connection between the interests of Japan and those of Russia. He did not say a word about the task I am taking up: he did not ask me a single question. He was extremely kind, of course. But his remarks could not have been more commonplace and vague if I had simply come to tell him that I had been transferred to Washington or Madrid."
"Did you have a talk with General Alexeïev?" I asked him. " What's your opinion of the Russian army?"
"Oh yes, I had a long talk with General Alexeïev. I said nothing about the operations in Rumania: I should have had too much to say on that subject! You know that he doesn't like civilians meddling in strategy. My special topic was the orders placed with our industries. As regards the Russian army, he told me voluntarily that it is in excellent condition and its moral is very high, as witness Brussilov's offensive. The Japanese officers who are visiting various parts of the front tell me that the men are in good fettle and high spirits. But they also tell me that their training is very defective. The system of tactics has remained practically what it was at the beginning of the war. Heavy artillery and flying tactics are particularly backward; one might almost call them primitive. It is actually worth considering whether the heavy guns which are now being manufactured for Russia in France and England had not better be kept on the western front where they could be put to much better purpose. Yet the fact remains that the Russian army, such as it is, represents a solid mass which puts enormous pressure on our enemies."
"So we must henceforth look to it for the effects of mass rather than shock action?"
"Yes, the effect of mass, and no more."
"What about the internal situation?"
"It's bad! People are patently tired of the war. Yet I don't believe the Russian nation would accept a peace which did not give it Constantinople."
As it was our last time together we reviewed our common memories. How many things---and what things---we have seen together! How many impressions have we exchanged in words, and sometimes with a mere glance!
As he rose to go, Motono said to me:
"Before we separate, my friend, I want to tell you a last secret which will complete your education on certain intrigues we often discussed together at the beginning of the war. It's something about Count Witte and relates to the bad days of December, 1914, when public opinion in Russia was so despondent over the defeats in Poland. You may remember that at that time Russia, France and England were anxious to make joint representations at Tokio to persuade us to send an army to Europe. Now Witte came to see me one morning. He fixed his eyes hard upon me and said at once, with that haughty assurance you will remember: 'I know that your government is going to be asked to send troops to Europe. It must do nothing of the kind! It would be madness. Believe me, Russia's at the end of her tether; tsarism is on the point of perishing. And don't think France and England will ever regain the upper hand. Victory cannot slip from Germany's grasp now. . . . ' A man who was a former minister of the Tsar, the man who signed the Treaty of Portsmouth, had the audacity to say that to me, the Ambassador of Japan!"
"It doesn't surprise me, if it was Witte. To my mental picture of his haughty, self-centred personality, this act of felony simply adds a bold feature which completes it perfectly. His outstanding characteristics were a thirst for power and intellectual pride. He belonged to the race of men of boundless ambition who do not admit defeat. Hence his arrogance and sarcasms, the bitterness of his hatreds, and the ever-increasing boldness of his intrigues. It is only logical that his character and the course of events should have carried him even to the stage of treason. But what must have been the conflict of feeling within him before he reached that stage and could bring himself to say to you anything so infamous as: 'Your government must not help my country, as it is at the end of its tether? ' Just think of the accumulated grudges, miscalculations, thwarted hopes, jealous and smouldering rage, well fanned and pondered hatreds an action such as that presupposes! I shall read Shakespeare's Coriolanus again this evening."
Friday, November 3, 1916.
During the last few days a curious rumour has been going round in germanophile circles in Petrograd; it has been mentioned to me by several people, two of whom, sound and sensible persons, have actually assured me that its origin is to be found in a categorical statement by Protopopov.
The theory which these circles are complacently discussing is as follows: "It is now obvious that Russia will never be able to win Constantinople by force of arms. In any case, whatever England and France may have promised, they will never allow the empire of the Tsars to annex the Straits: Germany alone is in a position to secure Constantinople for Russia, as she has only to leave the Turks to their fate; she is prepared to do so if Russia will realize where her true interests lie and agree to sign peace at once. What a great day it will be when Slavism and Teutonism make up their quarrel under the dome of Santa Sophia!"
Sunday, November 5, 1916.
At the Marie Theatre this evening I saw a number of delightful ballets, the Nuits Egyptiennes, Islamey, Eros. The entire audience seemed fascinated by these charming fairy tales, scenes of fantasy and passion, the whole atmosphere of mystery and enchantment.
During one of the intervals I went to smoke a cigarette in the Minister of the Court's box. There I found General W---- whose duties keep him in daily touch with the garrison of Petrograd. As I had an opportunity of doing him a service quite recently and know that he is inspired by feelings of the deepest patriotism, I asked him:
"Is it true that the troops in Petrograd have been seriously contaminated by revolutionary propaganda and that there is an idea of sending most of them to the front and replacing them by reliable regiments?"
He hesitated a few moments and then candidly replied:
"Quite true; the spirit of the Petrograd garrison isn't good. We saw that a week ago, when the mutiny in the Viborg quarter occurred. But I don't believe there's any idea of sending the bad regiments to the front and replacing them by sound units. In my opinion, the troops guarding the capital ought to have been weeded out long ago. In the first place there are far too many of them. Do you realize, Ambassador, that there are not less than one hundred and seventy thousand men in Petrograd and the vicinity, Tsarskoïe-Selo, Pavlovsk, Gatchina, Krasnoïe-Selo and Peterhof? They hardly ever do any drill; they are badly officered; they are at a loose end and thoroughly corrupt, in fact they're good for nothing but to supply cadres and recruits for the army of anarchy. We ought not to keep in Petrograd more than forty thousand men, selected from. the best elements in the guard, and twenty thousand Cossacks. With such a picked force we should be in a position to deal with any and every eventuality. Otherwise . . ."
He stopped; his lips were twitching and he looked very agitated. I pressed him as a friend to continue. He gravely resumed:
"If God does not spare us a revolution, it will be started not by the people, but by the army!"
Monday, November 6, 1916.
My English colleague was received by the Emperor at Tsarskoïe-Selo to-day.
His Majesty shows himself as determined as ever to continue the war until the triumph of our coalition is complete. Sir George Buchanan then alluded to the manoeuvres on which the advocates of a separate peace are openly engaged in so many quarters, and in so many ways. The Emperor replied:
"The leaders of this campaign are traitors."
My colleague then asked:
"Has not Your Majesty heard it said that if Russia would agree to separate from her allies, Germany would leave Constantinople to her?"
The Emperor vaguely shrugged his shoulders.
"Yes. someone mentioned that to me. But who was it? I can't remember now. Perhaps it was M. Protopopov? In any case, I don't attach the slightest importance to it . . . "
I have telegraphed this news to Briand and added:
The Emperor has thus once again affirmed his determination to continue the war until full and final victory. But if so, why does he not put a stop to the manoeuvres my English colleague denounced to him, and which he himself branded so appropriately? Why does he give his confidence and delegate his authority to ministers so tainted and compromised as M. Sturmer, M. Protopopov and several others? And why does he suffer his own palace to be that hotbed of intrigues of which the Empress is the centre?
And yet a nod from him would be enough to put everything right at once. But weakness of will or fatalism makes him prefer to hide himself away in Mohilev for months with his generals, thus leaving the Empress and the ministers who take their inspiration from her in undisputed possession of the field.
Tuesday, November 7, 1916.
At the suggestion of the cabinet of London, the Allied Governments have decided that a military and diplomatic conference shall assemble in Petrograd quite shortly, with a view to giving effect to the discussions which have just concluded in Paris.
Sturmer is beside himself with delight: he already sees himself a grand and glittering figure in the capacity of president, making a name for himself in history and eclipsing the glory of Talleyrand, Metternich, Bismarck and Gortchakov.
Wednesday, November 8, 1916.
The Emperors of Germany and Austria have just proclaimed the autonomy of Russian Poland 'under a system of hereditary monarchy. The Emperor Francis Joseph has also issued a rescript granting autonomy to Galicia.
In announcing this piece of news, the Petrograd papers are protesting against this "cynical violation of the rights of nations."
I ended my day by turning into the Yacht Club. In the midst of an excited group, Prince Viazemsky, Prince Victor Kotchubey, General Svetchin, Prince Engalytchev, Nicholas Balaschov, Prince Urussov and others were indignantly holding forth.
"It's an outrage! What an affront to our history! What an insult to the Emperor! The crown of Poland is torn from his head!"
And then there was a flood of charges and imprecations against "the Polish betrayal," no one doubting that if Poland has become subject to German allegiance, it is a result of a conspiracy of all the Poles. So it is being said that Russia owes them nothing more, that they have torn up the manifesto of August 14, 1914, with their own hands, and they are being threatened with terrible reprisals.
Prince Viazemsky took me into a corner and said:
"You may take it from me, Ambassador, that all this would not have happened if people in France and England had not taken up the cause of Polish independence so warmly."
I replied somewhat drily:
"To my knowledge the French Government has never recommended to the Russian Government anything more than the complete autonomy of Poland. And even now that is still His Majesty's intention."
Thursday, November 9, 1916.
This morning one hundred and fifty men of the regiments which fired on the police on October 31 have been shot. The news of the execution spread to the factories about ten o'clock. The workmen have immediately gone on strike as a protest.
General Sukhomlinov, ex-Minister of War, who was incarcerated in the fortress of Petrograd last April on charges of treason and collusion, has been released for the time being on the ground of ill-health.
His poor condition, physical and mental, would appear to justify this measure of indulgence, but the public simply regards it as another ground for abusing Sturmer.
Count Sigismond Wielopolski and Count Sobanski have just been to see me. They are angry at the charge of treachery which the party of the extreme Right is making broadcast against the Poles. Wielopolski said to me:
"For pity's sake get your government to say something, in fact anything, to show the Poles that France will not abandon them when peace is made!"
I replied that the provinces of Russian Poland will certainly be reconquered as the Emperor has sworn that he will never sign peace so long as a single enemy soldier remains on the territory of the Empire.
"The Polish question will then be put in really practical terms. And, of course, Poland knows that France will never abandon her."
As for France "saying anything," it would hardly be opportune, if I am to judge by the remark Prince Viazemsky made to me yesterday.
The Anglo-French offensive on the Somme has not produced the great results which have followed the Russian offensive in Galicia., but for all that it has been very fruitful. Between July 1 and November 1, the allied troops have captured seventy-one thousand five hundred men. one thousand five hundred officers, three hundred guns and one thousand machine-guns.
Friday, November 10, 1916.
By proclaiming the autonomy of Poland under a new dynasty the Teutonic Emperors have wounded a fibre of Russian nationalism which is still very sensitive. It is in Moscow and Kiev that the blow has been felt most deeply.
The Government has therefore decided to protest against the manifesto of November 5.
Sturmer read to me the protest which he had drawn up. I found it colourless and insipid.
"It's not enough to protest against such an act: you must declare it null and void."
"Yes, perhaps that would be better."
Faithful to his customary tactics of always avoiding inconvenient pressure, he promised me to frame his protest in somewhat stronger language.
At that point Buchanan came in.
He read us a telegram from the Foreign Office informing him that the British Government is disposed to publish the agreement relating to Constantinople as soon as the Russian Government thinks the publication desirable and opportune. He added that he is invited to act with me in the matter if and when I have the necessary instructions.
As I have not yet received these instructions, I could only take part in the ensuing conversation between us three in a purely personal and unofficial capacity. It gave me a much freer hand to question Sturmer and express my own opinion.
First of all I frankly said that the weakening of the national will in Russia and the manoeuvres of the germanophile party fill me with apprehension. I mentioned several instances. Sturmer did not dispute them, but confined himself to minimizing their symptomatic importance. Buchanan bore me out. The inference I drew was that if the Government did not take immediate steps to counteract the general depression and this epidemic of apathy, pessimism and slackness, things would go from bad to worse.
"You'll find yourselves in the bad days of 1905 again, and pass straight into revolution!"
Sturmer spluttered out vague denials. The turn the conversation was taking made him obviously uncomfortable. On Buchanan and myself he kept switching that sidelong and unsteady glance which at moments gives his crafty face a grotesquely base, cowardly and cunning expression. At length he said:
"The most encouraging thing for our people would be the certainty of getting Constantinople after the war. His Majesty the Emperor told me so only the other day."
Buchanan remarked that the telegram he had just read to us was on all fours with the Emperor's idea. He hopes that the French Government also will agree to publish the agreement relating to Constantinople.
"I imagine it will," I said, " and hope so. To make assurance doubly sure I will telegraph to that effect. But I can't help anticipating certain objections. Won't public opinion in France be surprised, or indeed disconcerted, by the publication of our agreement? Won't it insist on further information? Won't it want to know what will be France's share of this oriental booty of which Russia gets the tit-bit? I must wait to hear what Monsieur Briand thinks. But as we are talking in formally, may I tell you all that is in my mind. Don't you think that you would be acting more in the spirit of the alliance if you aimed at both Turkey and Germany by announcing the vital results Russia is determined to obtain from the war? In my opinion your proclamation would be incomplete, and in danger of being misunderstood by your allies, if you mentioned Constantinople and said nothing about Poland. I don't see how you can authoritatively repeat your claims to Constantinople without simultaneously declaring that Poland will be restored in her entirety under the sceptre of the Romanovs, in conformity with the manifesto of August 14, 1914."
The corners of the agitated and cautious Sturmer's mouth drooped---a sign of disapproval.
After an evasive stammer, he said something to the effect that the publication of the Constantinople agreement should at any rate precede the proclamation of Polish autonomy: there was a flash of honest patriotism in his eyes as he gravely declared:
"I'm more anxious to satisfy the Russian nation than the people of Poland."
I objected that the forced and sudden subject ion of Poland to the Teutonic empires demanded an immediate reply:
"It's an excellent thing to tell the world that the Emperor Nicholas is determined to take the crown of Byzantium, but simultaneously he must have the crown of Poland put back on his head."
"I'll consider the matter."
I heard this evening that Sturmer took the two o'clock train to Tsarskoïe-Selo, and had a long audience with the Empress, though this is not his regular "report" day.
The position of the armies at grips on the Eastern front between the Baltic and the Black Sea, is as follows:
(1) On the Russian front: one hundred and forty Russian divisions face sixty-three German, forty-one Austro-Hungarian and two Turkish divisions, i.e. a total of one hundred and six divisions; (2) on the Rumanian front: twenty-four Rumanian and nine Russian divisions face twenty Austro-German, eight Bulgarian and two Turkish divisions, i.e. thirty-three divisions against thirty.
Saturday, November 11, 1916.
Sturmer was beaming with assurance and cordiality when he received me this morning. Holding my hand in his, he said:
"I was very perplexed when you left me yesterday. I have fully considered what you said I've been thinking about it all night."
"I'm sorry I disturbed your sleep!"
"God is so good that he never lets me feel how tired my heavy responsibilities make me."
"What has been the result of your nocturnal meditations?"
"I've entirely come round to your views. Like you, I think that we must now link up the questions of Poland and Constantinople. All that remains is to secure the assent of His Majesty the Emperor."
1 asked him about the Duma, which is to resume its work in three days time:
"Many of the deputies are back already," I said.
"What do you know of their state of mind?"
"The deputies of the progressive group have returned with the most evil intentions. They want to turn the temporary and grossly exaggerated difficulty of the shortage of supplies to the towns into a weapon against the Government. But we shall not allow ourselves to be intimidated and we shall know how to restrict the Duma to the functions His Majesty has condescended to assign to it."
We discussed various topics of the day and then I left.
As he was opening the door we saw the Minister of the Interior, Protopopov, in the room leading into his.
He has designed a civil general's uniform for himself it is field dress, with a sword-belt of undressed leather, high boots with spurs and the ribbon of some order round the neck.
We exchanged a few pleasant commonplaces. Protopopov is far ahead of Sturmer as regards intellect and savoir-faire; his conversation is not without a certain charm and it makes him all the more dangerous. In any case, his grotesque costume and the steady brilliance of his eyes would be enough to betray his megalomania, an advanced symptom of the general paralysis which will soon have him in its clutches.
As I was leaving these two men, I remembered Royer-Collard's remark about Polignac and Peyronnet, the last ministers of Charles X: "From the moment they attained to power they had the ordinances written on their faces."
In the afternoon I met Miliukov. He confirmed that the deputies of the " Progressive Bloc"(1) have come back exasperated with the Government: they accuse it of provoking the economic crisis in order to make the continuation of the war impossible. The "Cadet" party has been secretly discussing the possibility of organizing a violent demonstration against Sturmer and Protopopov. It is improbable that there will be anything more than speeches.
I asked Miliukov:
"So in your opinion we need anticipate nothing serious from the return of the Duma?"
"No, nothing serious. But certain things will have to be said from the tribune. Otherwise we should lose all our influence with our constituents and they would go over to the extremists."
Monday, November 13, 1916.
D-----, a journalist who has secret relations with the Okhrana and honours me with his confidences when he is "hard up," assured me to-day that Protopopov is taking active steps to reorganize the "Black Bands," the famous Tchernia Sotny of 1905 and 1906. His principal colleague in this task is Nicholas Feodorovitch B-----
The instrument is worthy of the job. B-----, an ex-officer of cavalry who has since become the Antinous of old Prince Mestchersky (whom he recently succeeded), has been engaged in several high police missions in Russia and abroad during the last few years.
I remember dining with him and Nicholas Maklakov, who was then Minister of the Interior, at Prince Mestchersky's house on May 9, 1914. We were a party of four and I was quite anxious to know the formidable advocate of the Gradjanin, the renowned champion of autocratic tsarism and Divine Right. Our talk, at a table piled high with bottles, continued until after midnight. Notwithstanding the burden of his seventy-three years and, the incurable disease which was already undermining his strength, Vladimir Petrovitch amused me greatly with his disdainful and biting wit, his flashes of rage and pride, his grim prophecies, the splendid fury of his cursings and revilings and all the riotous, explosive and inflammable eloquence which reminded me of the eruption of a volcano. Every prophecy and aphorism which fell from his lips brought a cry of admiration from Maklakov. B----- kept his eyes fixed on the ceiling in a kind of ecstacy, but from time to time I caught him switching on me a sidelong, but piercing, enquiring and crafty glance, the glance of spy or police agent.
Nicholas Feodorovitch is thus quite worthy of the mission Protopopov has entrusted to him of re-establishing the powerful instrument of reaction which General Bogdanovitch and Doctor Dubrovin created in 1905. It was that "Union of the Russian People " which gained so atrocious a reputation through the exploits of its "Black Bands." The idea of mobilizing the rural masses in the name of orthodox autocracy and inciting them against the liberals and intellectuals, subject races and Jews, is being considered every day by those in the entourage of the Minister of the Interior. In addition to B----- who is a go-between and adviser rather than a man of action, the effective direction of the movement is said to be in the hands of three former leaders of the Tchernia Sotny, Markov, Bulavtsel and Zamysslovsky. It is thought that a few well arranged pogroms would be enough to revive the "old popular virtues." Under the ægis of this national reawakening, the Duma would be dissolved, or rather that baneful institution, the source of all evil, would be suppressed once and for all.
Thus the party's doctrine and programme have not changed since that day in 1907 when Doctor Dubrovin sent the following telegram to the Emperor to congratulate him on having dissolved the second Duma:
Tears of joy prevent us from giving utterance to the thoughts that have crowded in upon us on reading your manifesto, oh beloved Sovereign, and on hearing your imperious words which have put an end to the criminal existence of the Duma. We fervently implore the Most High to give you the strength and firmness required to complete your holy task. Russia has nothing to fear from her enemies at home and abroad so long as the Russian people is defended by its Tsar autocrat, God's envoy on earth.
Tuesday, November 14, 1916.
This morning Neratov communicated to me officially the speech the Government is to read to the Council of Empire and the Duma on the opening of the session this afternoon.
It is couched in appropriate terms. The Government reaffirms that to Russia Constantinople is a war-aim of such vital importance that the Russian people must leave nothing undone to attain it. As regards Poland, the speech repeats that the Emperor is firm in his resolve to reunite the territories of Poland in an autonomous kingdom.
But at the last moment the ministers, who have heard of the hostility the Duma proposes to show them, have decided to omit the speech and leave the Chamber immediately after the opening speech of President Rodzianko. Sturmer has also requested the ambassadors to leave the diplomatic gallery at the moment when the ministers withdraw.
When I arrived at the Tauride Palace at two o'clock, I discussed with my English, Italian and American colleagues the strange request Sturmer has just made to us. Buchanan, who is our doyen, pointed out that if we remained in our places after the ministers left and some parliamentary incident, or demonstration damaging to the Government, took place, our position might well become awkward. We came round to his opinion.
After a short patriotic harangue by Rodzianko, all the ministers rose, to the general stupefaction. They then slowly left the chamber, Sturmer leading, leaving behind them a great hubbub, above which the yells of the socialists could be heard.
We left the diplomatic gallery, after explaining to. those around us that we were doing so in deference to a request from the President of the Council. As we passed out we were cheered.
From the Tauride Palace we went to the Marie Palace where the Council of Empire met at four o'clock. We confined ourselves to hearing the President's speech and stayed no longer, as we did not wish to hurt the feelings of the Duma.
But outside the chamber itself several members of the Council invited us to tea in the salons. Stakhovitch, General Polivanov, Sigismond Wielopolski, Vladimir Gourko and Krivoshein, who are among the wisest and most liberal-minded members of the upper chamber, are very grieved at the Government's attitude towards the Duma. General Polivanov said to me:
"This war cannot be brought to a successful conclusion without the active and willing help of the Duma, so it's sheer madness to presume to govern without it. As for governing in defiance of it, I can't believe anyone's thinking of it; it would be the climax of insanity."
There is great rejoicing in the camp of reaction. I have overheard remarks such as the following: "How can the rage and opposition of the Duma hamper the Government in any way? The Duma can only storm. Let it storm, to its heart's content!"
After the ministers left, the sitting continued at the Tauride Palace. Schildlovsky, the leader of the "progressive block," and Miliukov, the leader of the "cadets," made very grave charges against the Government.
Miliukov formally accused Sturmer of treason and double-dealing. In support of his charge of treason he referred to the provocative rôle of the police in the strikes in munitions factories, the secret communications with Germany, Protopopov's talk with the German agent, Warburg, at Stockholm, and so on. As regards the double-dealing, he cited the Manuilov affair. He wound up as follows: "If I am asked why I open such a discussion during the war, I reply that it is because M. Sturmer's ministry is itself a peril during the war, and a danger to the prosecution of the war. We must therefore fight on until we have ministers worthy of our confidence."
The pressure of the Austro-Germans on Rumania is increasing steadily. In the valleys of the Jiul and the Oltu the Rumanians are retreating. On the other hand, in Macedonia the Franco-Serbian troops are advancing in the bend of the Cerna and the plain of Monastir.
Wednesday, November 15, 1916.
I have been shown a letter which Prince Lvov, president of the Union of Zemstvos, has just written to Rodzianko to enlighten the Duma on the dangers of the policy which the Imperial Government has adopted. It includes the following phrases:
The situation at home is growing worse every day. The meaningless and inconsistent actions of the Government have increased the general disorganization of the State. The nation is getting exasperated and indignant. The continual changes of ministers have paralysed authority. But that is not all. A horrible suspicion, rumours of treason and scandalous stories have propagated a belief that the hand of the enemy is at work in our public affairs. This belief is strengthened by the persistent reports to the effect that the Government has already decided to conclude a separate peace. The delegates of the Union of Zemstvos indignantly denounce the idea of a shameful peace; they consider that patriotism and honour compel Russia to continue the war at the side of her allies until victory is achieved. They firmly believe in the triumph of our heroic army but they are obliged to admit that the main danger is not from without but from within. They are therefore determined to support the Duma in its efforts to set up a government capable of making all the resources of the country available. Great Russia will give all the help in her power to the government of the people.
This letter has been passing from hand to hand and has been the cause of excited comment in the lobbies of the Tauride Palace.
Thursday, November 16, 1916.
The press has been forbidden by the censorship to reproduce or comment on Miliukov's attack on Sturmer the day before yesterday. But it is being circulated among the public, and the effect is all the greater because everyone is improving upon it by exaggerating the phraseology or adding revelations of his own.
In the Duma the speech has had a curious result. The "Progressive Bloc" has been split by the action of the advanced elements who regard Miliukov's intervention as too timid and platonic and insist upon an open fight against the Government.
On the other hand a letter is being secretly hawked round which the leader of the "Octobrists," Gutchkov. recently wrote to General Alexeïev, pointing out the "mortal peril" to which Russia is exposed by the policy of Sturmer. The letter ends thus:
The nation and the army are at one in believing that if M. Sturmer has not already committed treason, he is quite prepared to do so. Is it not terrible to think that all the secrets of our diplomacy are in that man's hands? The infamous policy of which he is the instrument is likely to cost us all the fruits of our military effort. Forgive me for sending this letter, but I felt I must write to you, as if anyone can remedy the evil it is you alone.
Friday, November 17, 1916.
Last night the Council of Ministers had a long discussion on a project of Sturmer's for dissolving the Duma and arresting Miliukov. Protopopov, the Minister of the Interior, was the only minister to agree with this scheme.
According to a secret report which comes indirectly from Trepov, the position of Sturmer and Protopopov has become impossible, as the Emperor is absolutely determined that there shall be no conflict between the Government and the Duma. Trepov is expecting to succeed Sturmer very shortly. As his ardent patriotism in no way affects his dynastic loyalty, he cannot, of course, approve of the aggressive attitude which the Duma has recently adopted; he will be very firm in his dealings with that body.
This afternoon the sitting of the Duma was marked by a curious incident which has created a sensation.
Since the first sitting after the reopening, none of the ministers had entered the Tauride Palace. Great was the astonishment of the Assembly, therefore, when General Shuvaïev, the War Minister, and Admiral Grigorovitch, Naval Minister, were seen to come in about two o'clock. They immediately asked to speak and announced that they were anxious to work whole-heartedly with the Duma to prosecute the war to complete victory. This unexpected pronouncement was greeted with frantic cheers. The two ministers then proceeded at once to the Armaments Committee.
It has been a heavy blow for Sturmer. The idea originated with Admiral Grigorovitch, but it was only with the help of General Alexeïev that he managed to win over his colleague at the War Ministry.
Saturday, November 18, 1916.
Of the symptoms which have impelled me to a very gloomy diagnosis of the moral health of the Russian people, one of the most alarming is the steady increase in the number of suicides in recent years.
As this question has caused me serious concern, I have discussed it with Dr. Shingarev, a Duma deputy and neurologist, who came to see me on a private matter. He tells me that the number of suicides has trebled or even quadrupled in Petrograd, Moscow, Kiev, Kharkov and Odessa during the last ten years. The evil has spread to the country districts also, though it has not reached such high proportions there or made such rapid progress. It is the youth of the country which is paying the heaviest tribute. Two-thirds of the victims are under twenty-five and the statistics record cases of children of eight. The causes of most of these crimes are neurasthenia, melancholia, hypochondria and general disgust with life. Cases due to impulsive obsession or physical suffering are rare. As always in Russia, mental contagion and mutual suggestion play an important part. Thus epidemics of suicide are frequent among students, soldiers, prisoners and prostitutes.
When a society is firmly held together and all its political, civil and religious organs are well adapted to their functions, the figure of suicides remains infinitesimal. Putting aside pathological accidents, exceptional circumstances are required to make an individual try to escape from his social group, so long as he finds it his natural atmosphere and feels himself in harmony and communion with his fellows. Thus the immense increase in the number of suicides shows that the silent forces of disintegration are at work in the heart of Russian society.
Sunday, November 19, 1916.
During recent months the Emperor has frequently suffered from nervous maladies which betray themselves in unhealthy excitement, anxiety, loss of appetite, depression and insomnia.
The Empress would not rest until he had consulted the quack Badmaïev, an ingenious disciple of the Mongol sorcerers. The charlatan soon discovered in his pharmacopoeia the remedy appropriate to the case of his august patient: it is an elixir compounded of "Tibetan herbs" according to a magic formula and has to be prescribed very strictly.
Every time that the Tsar has used this drug, his baneful symptoms have vanished in a twinkling. He has not only recovered sleep and appetite, but experienced a general feeling of well-being, a delightful sense of increased vigour and a curious euphoria.
Judging by its effects, the elixir must be a mixture of henbane and hashish, and the Emperor should be careful not to take too much.
Monday, November 20. 1916.
The stubborn offensive on which the Salonica army has been engaged for nearly a month in the valley of the Cerna has at length broken the resistance of the Bulgarians.
The Serbians occupied Monastir yesterday; it was the anniversary of their entry into the town in 1912.
The Emperor Francis Joseph is dying.
Sturmer has been sent for by the Tsar and left for Mohilev this evening.
Tuesday, November 21, 1916.
The practice of the occult sciences has always been popular among Russians; since the days of Swedenborg and Baroness de Krudener, all spiritualists and illuminati, mesmerists, fortune-tellers and high-priests of mysticism and magic have found a sympathetic welcome on the banks of the Neva.
In 1900 the magician Papus (his real name was Dr. Encausse) who revived alchemy in France, came to St. Petersburg and soon made an enthusiastic clientèle for himself. In the years following he was seen there on several occasions during the residence of his great friend, the magician Philippe of Lyons; the Emperor and Empress honoured him with their whole confidence. His last visit was in February, 1906.
Newspapers which have recently reached us from France via the Scandinavian countries report that Papus died on the 26th October.
I confess that I had not given the news a moment's thought, but I am told that those who used to know the "Spiritual Master," as his fervent disciples used to call him, are in consternation.
Madame R-----, who is both a professing spiritualist and a disciple of Rasputin, has been explaining this consternation to me by reference to a strange prophecy which is worth recording: the death of Papus presages nothing less than the downfall of tsarism in the near future. This is how it comes about:
At the beginning of October, 1905, Papus was sent to St. Petersburg by some of his highly-placed followers who badly needed his guidance in the formidable crisis through which Russia was then passing. The disasters in Manchuria had produced revolutionary agitation in every part of the Empire, bloody strikes, outbreaks of looting, massacre and arson. The Emperor was living in a state of torturing anxiety, finding himself unable to make his choice among the contradictory and agitated pieces of advice with which his family, ministers, dignitaries, generals and the whole court pestered him daily. Some said that he had no right to abandon traditional autocracy, and exhorted him not to shrink from the necessary severities of a ruthless reaction. Others adjured him to yield to the exigencies of modern times and introduce a constitutional régime in all good faith.
The very day on which Papus arrived in St. Petersburg, a riot spread terror in Moscow and a mysterious syndicate proclaimed a general railway strike.
The magician was immediately summoned to Tsarskoïe-Selo. After a summary talk with the Emperor and Empress, a great spiritualistic séance was arranged for the next day. Apart from the sovereigns there was only one spectator of this secret ceremony, Captain Mandryka, a young A.D.C. of His Majesty who is now a major-general and governor of Tiflis. By an intense concentration of will and a prodigious expenditure of fluid dynamism, the "Spiritual Master" succeeded in calling up the spirit of the most pious Tsar Alexander III; the presence of the invisible spectre was attested by signs indubitable.
In spite of the fear which clutched at his heart, Nicholas II bluntly asked his father whether he should or should not resist the current of liberalism which was threatening to overwhelm Russia. The spirit replied:
"At any cost you must crush the revolution now beginning but it will spring up again one day and its violence will be proportionate to the severity with which it is put down to-day. But what does it matter! Be brave, my son! Do not give up the struggle!"
While the horrified sovereigns were reflecting on this appalling prophecy, Papus told them that his magic powers enabled him to avert the threatened catastrophe, but that the efficacy of his spells would cease the moment he himself ceased to be "on the physical plane." Then he solemnly performed the necessary rites.
Now the magician Papus has ceased to be "on the physical plane" since the 27th October last; the efficacy of his spells has been destroyed, so revolution is at hand.
After leaving Madame R-----, I returned to the embassy and opened my Odyssey at Canto IX, the famous episode of the Nekuia. Under the influence of the story I had just heard, that magnificent scene of primitive humanity, a gloomy and barbarous phantasmagoria, seemed to me as natural and true to life as if it had taken place yesterday. I saw Ulysses in the misty land of the Cimmerians offering a sacrifice to the dead, digging a hole with his sword, pouring out libations of wine and milk and slaughtering a black ram on the edge of the cavity. The multitude of shades, rising up from Erebus, crowd round to drink the streaming blood. But the King of Ithaca roughly drives them off, for the only spirit he wishes to see is that of his mother, the venerable Anticlea, that she may tell him the future through the medium of the soothsayer Tiresias
I have been reflecting that only thirty centuries lie between Ulysses and Nicholas II, Tiresias the soothsayer and Papus the magician.
Wednesday, November 22, 1916.
Francis Joseph I, Emperor of Austria., Apostolic King of Hungary, King of Bohemia, Dalmatia., Croatia, Esclavonia, Illyria and Galicia, King of Jerusalem, etc., died yesterday in his eighty-seventh year.
The fact is barely mentioned, and only as an unimportant incident, the reality being so much beyond all the consequences we foretold in the old days when we used to speculate on the results of the aged Emperor's disappearance!
I have no time to write his funeral oration; but to judge his reign I have only to recall the terrible words of his predecessor Ferdinand I, who was compelled to abdicate in 1848 and lived in retirement at Prague until 1875. Shortly after Sadowa the old and throneless sovereign, calling to mind the defeats of 1859 and the loss of Lombardy, and seeing Austria finally excluded from Germany and obliged to cede Venetia, burst out:
"Why was I got rid of in 1848! I should have been just as capable as my nephew of losing battles and provinces!"
1. The "Progressive Bloc" includes all the parties of the Left except the socialists, i.e., 250 out of 402 deputies. There are 15 socialists.
Volume III, Chapter Four
Table of Contents