INTERCOURSE WITH RUSSIAN STATESMEN—1892-1894
To return to Sir Robert Morier. There had been some friction between his family and that of one of my predecessors, and this had for some time almost ended social intercourse between his embassy and our legation; but on my arrival I ignored this, and we established very satisfactory personal relations. He had held important positions in various parts of Europe, and had been closely associated with many of the most distinguished men of his own and other countries. Reading Grant Duff's "Memoirs," I find that Morier's bosom friend, of all men in the world, was Jowett, the late head of Oriel College at Oxford. But Sir Robert was at the close of his career; his triumph in the Behring Sea matter was his last. I met him shortly afterward at his last visit to the Winter Palace: with great effort he mounted the staircase, took his position at the head of the diplomatic circle, and, immediately after his conversation with the Emperor, excused himself and went home. This was the last time I ever saw him; he returned soon afterward to England and died. His successor, Sir Frank Lascelles, more recently my colleague at Berlin, is a very different character. His manner is winning, his experience large and interesting, his first post having been at Paris during the Commune, and his latest at Teheran. Our relations became, and have ever since remained, all that I could desire. He, too, in every post, is provided with all that is necessary for accomplishing the purposes of Great Britain, and will doubtless win great success for his country, though not in exactly the same way as his predecessor.
The French ambassador was the Comte de Montebello, evidently a man of ability, but with perhaps less of the engaging qualities than one generally expects in a French diplomatic representative. The Turkish ambassador, Husny Pasha, like most Turkish representatives whom I have met, had learned to make himself very agreeable; but his position was rather trying: he had fought in the Russo-Turkish War and had seen his country saved from the most abject humiliation, if not destruction, only at the last moment, by the Berlin Conference. His main vexation in St. Petersburg arose from the religious feeling of the Emperor. Every great official ceremony in Russia is prefaced, as a rule, by a church service; hence Husny was excluded, since he felt bound to wear the fez, and this the Emperor would not tolerate; though there was really no more harm in his wearing this simple head-gear in church than in a woman wearing her bonnet or a soldier wearing his helmet.
Interesting, too, was the Italian ambassador, Marochetti, son of the eminent sculptor, some of whose artistic ability he had inherited. He was fond of exercising this talent; but it was generally understood that his recall was finally due to the fact that his diplomatic work had suffered in consequence.
The Austrian ambassador, Count Wolkenstein, was, in many things, the most trustworthy of counselors; more than once, under trying circumstances, I found his advice precious; for he knew, apparently, in every court of Europe, the right man to approach, and the right way to approach him, on every conceivable subject.
Of the ministers plenipotentiary the Dutch representative, Van Stoetwegen, was the best counselor I found. He was shrewd, keen, and kindly; but his tongue was sharp—so much so that it finally brought about his recall. He made a remark one day which especially impressed me. I had said to him, "I have just sent a despatch to my government declaring my skepticism as to the probability of any war in Europe for a considerable time to come. When I arrived in Berlin eleven years ago all the knowing people said that a general European war must break out within a few months: in the spring they said it must come in the autumn; and in the autumn they said it must come in the spring. All these years have passed and there is still no sign of war. We hear the same prophecies daily, but I learned long since not to believe in them. War may come, but it seems to me more and more unlikely." He answered, "I think you are right. I advise my own government in the same sense. The fact is that war in these days is not what it once was; it is infinitely more dangerous from every point of view, and it becomes more and more so every day. Formerly a crowned head, when he thought himself aggrieved, or felt that he would enjoy a campaign, plunged into war gaily. If he succeeded, all was well; if not, he hauled off to repair damages,—very much as a pugilist would do after receiving a black eye in a fist fight,—and in a short time the losses were repaired and all went on as before. In these days the case is different: it is no longer a simple contest in the open, with the possibility of a black eye or, at most, of a severe bruise; it has become a matter of life and death to whole nations. Instead of being like a fist fight, it is like a combat between a lot of champions armed with poisoned daggers, and in a dark room; if once the struggle begins, no one knows how many will be drawn into it or who will be alive at the end of it; the probabilities are that all will be injured terribly and several fatally. War in these days means the cropping up of a multitude of questions dangerous not only to statesmen but to monarchs, and even to society itself. Monarchs and statesmen know this well; and, no matter how truculent they may at times appear, they really dread war above all things."
One of my colleagues at St. Petersburg was interesting in a very different way from any of the others. This was Pasitch, the Servian minister. He was a man of fine presence and, judging from his conversation, of acute mind. He had some years before been sentenced to death for treason, but since that had been prime minister. Later he was again put on trial for his life at Belgrade, charged with being a partner in the conspiracy which resulted in the second attempt against the life of King Milan. His speech before his judges, recently published, was an effort worthy of a statesman, and carried the conviction to my mind that he was not guilty.
 He was found guilty, but escaped death by a bitter humiliation: it was left for others to bring about Milan's assassination.
The representatives of the extreme Orient were both interesting personages, but the same difference prevailed there as elsewhere: the Chinese was a mandarin, able to speak only through an interpreter; the Japanese was trained in Western science, and able to speak fluently both Russian and French. His successor, whom I met at the Peace Conference of The Hague, spoke English admirably.
Among the secretaries and attaches, several were very interesting; and of these was the first British secretary Henry Howard, now Sir Henry Howard, minister at The Hague. He and his American wife were among the most delightful of associates. Another in this category was the Bavarian secretary, Baron Guttenberg, whom I often met later at Berlin. When I spoke to him about a visit I had made to Wurzburg, and the desecration of the magnificent old Romanesque cathedral there by plastering its whole interior over with nude angels, and substituting for the splendid old mediaeval carving Louis Quinze woodwork in white and gold, he said: "Yes; you are right; and it was a bishop of my family who did it."
As to Russian statesmen, I had the benefit of the fairly friendly spirit which has usually been shown toward the American representative in Russia by all in authority from the Emperor down. I do not mean by this that the contentions of the American Embassy are always met by speedy concessions, for among the most trying of all things in diplomatic dealings with that country are the long delays in all business; but a spirit is shown which, in the long run, serves the purpose of our representative as regards most questions.
It seems necessary here to give a special warning against putting any trust in the epigram which has long done duty as a piece of politico-ethnological wisdom: "Scratch a Russian and you will find a Tartar." It would be quite as correct to say, "Scratch an American and you will find an Indian." The simple fact is that the Russian officials with whom foreigners have to do are men of experience, and, as a rule, much like those whom one finds in similar positions in other parts of Europe. A foreign representative has to meet on business, not merely the Russian minister of foreign affairs and the heads of departments in the Foreign Office, but various other members of the imperial cabinet, especially the ministers of finance, of war, of the navy, of the interior, of justice, as well as the chief municipal authorities of St. Petersburg; and I can say that many of these gentlemen, both as men and as officials, are the peers of men in similar positions in most other countries which I have known. Though they were at times tenacious in questions between their own people and ours, and though they held political doctrines very different from those we cherish, I am bound to say that most of them did so in a way which disarmed criticism. At the same time I must confess a conviction which has more and more grown upon me, that the popular view regarding the power, vigor, and foresight of Russian statesmen is ill-founded. And it must be added that Russian officials and their families are very susceptible to social influences: a foreign representative who entertains them frequently and well can secure far more for his country than one who trusts to argument alone. In no part of the world will a diplomatist more surely realize the truth embedded in Oxenstiern's famous utterance, "Go forth, my son, and see with how little wisdom the world is governed." When one sees what really strong men might do in Russia, what vast possibilities there are which year after year are utterly neglected, one cannot but think that the popular impression regarding the superiority of Russian statesmen is badly based. As a matter of fact, there has not been a statesman of the first class, of Russian birth, since Catherine the Great, and none of the second class unless Nesselrode and the Emperor Nicholas are to be excepted. To consider Prince Gortchakoff a great chancellor on account of his elaborate despatches is absurd. The noted epigram regarding him is doubtless just: "C'est un Narcisse qui se mire dans son encrier."
To call him a great statesman in the time of Cavour Bismarck, Lincoln, and Seward is preposterous. Whatever growth in civilization Russia has made in the last forty years has been mainly in spite of the men who have posed as her statesmen; the atmosphere of Russian autocracy is fatal to greatness in any form.
The emancipation of the serfs was due to a policy advocated by the first Nicholas and carried out under Alexander II; but it was made possible mainly by Miloutine, Samarine, Tcherkassky, and other subordinates, who never were allowed to approach the first rank as state servants. This is my own judgment, founded on observation and reading during half a century, and it is the quiet judgment of many who have had occasion to observe Russia longer and more carefully.
Next, as to the Foreign Office. Nearly a hundred years ago Napoleon compared Alexander I and those about him to "Greeks of the Lower Empire." That saying was repelled as a slander; but, ever since it was uttered, the Russian Foreign Office seems to have been laboring to deserve it. There are chancelleries in the world which, when they give promises, are believed and trusted. Who, in the light of the last fifty years, would claim that the Russian Foreign Office is among these? Its main reputation is for astuteness finally brought to naught; it has constantly been "too clever by half."
Take the loudly trumpeted peace proposals to the world made by Nicholas II. When the nations got together at The Hague to carry out the Czar's supposed purpose, it was found that all was haphazard; that no adequate studies had been made, no project prepared; in fact, that the Emperor's government had virtually done nothing showing any real intention to set a proper example. Nothing but the high character and abilities of M. de Martens and one or two of his associates saved the prestige of the Russian Foreign Office at that time. Had there been a man of real power in the chancellorship or in the ministry of foreign affairs, he would certainly have advised the Emperor to dismiss to useful employments, say, two hundred to two hundred and fifty thousand troops, which he could have done without the slightest danger—thus showing that he was in earnest, crippling the war clique, and making the beginning of a great reform which all Europe would certainly have been glad to follow. But there was neither the wisdom nor the strength required to advise and carry through such a measure. Deference to the "military party" and petty fear of a loss of military prestige were all-controlling.
Take the army and the navy departments. In these, if anywhere, Russia has been thought strong. The main occupation of leading Russians for a hundred years has been, not the steady uplifting of the people in intellect and morals, not the vigorous development of natural resources, but preparations for war on land and sea. This has been virtually the one business of the main men of light and leading from the emperors and grand dukes down. Drill and parade have been apparently everything: the strengthening of the empire by the education of the people, and the building of industrial prosperity as a basis for a great army and navy, seem to have been virtually nothing. The results are now before the world for the third time since 1815.
An objector may remind me of the emancipation of the serfs. I do not deny the greatness and nobleness of Alexander II and the services of the men he then called to his aid; but I lived in Russia both before and since that reform, and feel obliged to testify that, thus far, its main purpose has been so thwarted by reactionaries that there is, as yet, little, if any, practical difference between the condition of the Russian peasant before and since obtaining his freedom.
Take the dealings with Finland. The whole thing is monstrous. It is both comedy and tragedy. Finland is by far the best-developed part of the empire; it stands on a higher plane than do the other provinces as regards every element of civilization; it has steadily been the most loyal of all the realms of the Czar. Nihilism and anarchism have never gained the slightest foothold; yet to-day there is nobody in the whole empire strong enough to prevent sundry bigots—military and ecclesiastical—leading the Emperor to violate his coronation oath; to make the simple presentation of a petition to him treasonable; to trample Finland under his feet; to wrong grievously and insult grossly its whole people; to banish and confiscate the property of its best men; to muzzle its press; to gag its legislators; and thus to lower the whole country to the level of the remainder of Russia.
During my stay in Russia at the time of the Crimean War, I had been interested in the Finnish peasants whom I saw serving on the gunboats. There was a sturdiness, heartiness, and loyalty about them which could not fail to elicit good-will; but during this second stay in Russia my sympathies with them were more especially enlisted. During the hot weather of the first summer my family were at the Finnish capital, Helsingfors, at the point where the Gulf of Finland opens into the Baltic. The whole people deeply interested me. Here was one of the most important universities of Europe, a noble public library, beautiful buildings, and throughout the whole town an atmosphere of cleanliness and civilization far superior to that which one finds in any Russian city. Having been added to Russia by Alexander I under his most solemn pledges that it should retain its own constitutional government, it had done so up to the time of my stay; and the results were evident throughout the entire grand duchy. While in Russia there had been from time immemorial a debased currency, the currency of Finland was as good as gold; while in Russia all public matters bore the marks of arbitrary repression, in Finland one could see the results of enlightened discussion; while in Russia the peasant is but little, if any, above Asiatic barbarism, the Finnish peasant—simple, genuine—is clearly far better developed both morally and religiously. It is a grief to me in these latter days to see that the measures which were then feared have since been taken. There seems a determination to grind down Finland to a level with Russia in general. We heard, not long since, much sympathy expressed for the Boers in South Africa in their struggle against England; but infinitely more pathetic is the case of Finland. The little grand duchy has done what it could to save itself, but it recognizes the fact that its two millions of people are utterly powerless against the brute force of the one hundred and twenty millions of the Russian Empire. The struggle in South Africa meant, after all, that if worst came to worst, the Boers would, within a generation or two, enjoy a higher type of constitutional liberty than they ever could have developed under any republic they could have established; but Finland is now forced to give up her constitutional government and to come under the rule of brutal Russian satraps. These have already begun their work. All is to be "Russified": the constitutional bodies are to be virtually abolished; the university is to be brought down to the level of Dorpat—once so noted as a German university, now so worthless as a Russian university; for the simple Protestantism of the people is to be substituted the fetishism of the Russo-Greek Church. It is the saddest spectacle of our time. Previous emperors, however much they wished to do so, did not dare break their oaths to Finland; but the present weakling sovereign, in his indifference, carelessness, and absolute unfitness to rule, has allowed the dominant reactionary clique about him to accomplish its own good pleasure. I put on record here the prophecy that his dynasty, if not himself, will be punished for it. All history shows that no such crime has gone unpunished. It is a far greater crime than the partition of Poland; for Poland had brought her fate on herself, while Finland has been the most loyal part of the empire. Not even Moscow herself has been more thoroughly devoted to Russia and the reigning dynasty. The young monarch whose weakness has led to this fearful result will bring retribution upon himself and those who follow him. The Romanoffs will yet find that "there is a Power in the universe, not ourselves, which makes for righteousness." The house of Hapsburg and its satellites found this in the humiliating end of their reign in Italy; the house of Valois found it, after the massacre of St. Bartholomew, in their own destruction; the Bourbons found it, after the driving out of the Huguenots and the useless wars of Louis XIV and XV, in the French Revolution which ended their dynasty. Both the Napoleons met their punishment after violating the rights of human nature. The people of the United States, after the Fugitive Slave Law, found their punishment in the Civil War, which cost nearly a million of lives and, when all is reckoned, ten thousand millions of treasure.
When I talked with this youth before he came to the throne, and saw how little he knew of his own empire,—how absolutely unaware he was that the famine was continuing for a second year in various important districts, there resounded in my ears, as so often at other times, the famous words of Oxenstiern to his son, "Go forth, my son, and see with how little wisdom the world is governed."
Pity to say it, the European sovereign to whom Nicholas II can be most fully compared is Charles IX of France, under the influence of his family and men and women courtiers and priests, authorizing the massacre of St. Bartholomew. The punishment to be meted out to him and his house is sure.
 The above was written before the Russian war with Japan and the assassinations of Bobrikoff, Plehve, and others were dreamed of. My prophecy seems likely to be realized far earlier than I had thought possible.
As I revise these lines, we see another exhibition of the same weakness and folly. The question between Russia and Japan could have been easily and satisfactorily settled in a morning talk by any two business men of average ability; but the dominant clique has forced on one of the most terrible wars in history, which bids fair to result in the greatest humiliation Russia has ever known.
The same thing may be said regarding Russia's dealings with the Baltic provinces. The "Russification" which has been going on there for some years is equally absurd, equally wicked, and sure to be equally disastrous.
The first Russian statesman with whom I had to do was the minister of foreign affairs, M. de Giers; but he was dying. I saw him twice in retirement at Tzarskoye Selo, and came to respect him much. He spoke at length regarding the entente between Russia and France, and insisted that it was not in the interest of war but of peace. "Tell your government," he said, "that the closer the lines are drawn which bind Russia and France, the more strongly will Russian influence be used to hold back the French from war."
At another time he discoursed on the folly of war, and especially regarding the recent conflict between Russia and Turkey. He spoke of its wretched results, of the ingratitude which Russia had experienced from the peoples she had saved from the Turks, and finally, with extreme bitterness, of the vast sums of money wasted in it which could have been used in raising the condition of the Russian peasantry. He spoke with the conviction of a dying man, and I felt that he was sincere. At the same time I felt it a pity that under the Russian system there is no chance for such a man really to enforce his ideas. For one day he may be in the ascendancy with the autocrat; and the next, through the influence of grand dukes, women, priests, or courtiers, the very opposite ideas may become dominant.
The men with whom I had more directly to do at the Foreign Office were the acting minister, Shishkin, who had formerly been at Washington, and the head of the Asiatic department, Count Kapnist. They were agreeable in manner; but it soon became clear that, regarding the question of the Behring seal-fisheries, they were pursuing a policy of their own, totally distinct from the interests of the empire. Peter the Great would have beheaded both of them.
The strongest man among the Czar's immediate advisers was understood to be the finance minister, De Witte. There always seemed in him a certain sullen force. The story usually told of his rise in the world is curious. It is, in effect, that when the Emperor Alexander II and his family were wrecked in their special train at Borki, many of their attendants were killed; and the world generally, including the immediate survivors of the catastrophe, believed for some time that it was the result of a nihilist plot. There was, therefore, a general sweeping into prison of subordinat'e railway officials; and among these was De Witte, then in charge of a railway station. During the examinations which ensued he showed himself so clear-headed and straightforward that he attracted attention was promoted, put into the finance ministry, and finally advanced to the first place in it. His dealings with Russian finances have since shown great capacity: he has brought the empire out of the slough of depreciated currency and placed it firmly on a gold basis. I came especially to know him when he offered, through me, to the United States a loan of gold to enable us to tide over our difficulties with the currency question. He informed me that Russia had in her treasury many millions of rubles in American gold eagles, and that the Russian gold reserve then in the treasury was about six hundred millions of rubles.
The only result was that I was instructed to convey the thanks of the President to him, there being no law enabling us to take advantage of his offer. What he wished to do was to make a call loan, whereas our Washington Government could obtain gold only by issuing bonds.
I also met him in a very interesting way when I presented to him Rabbi Krauskopf of Philadelphia, who discussed the question of allowing sundry Israelites who were crowded into the western districts of the empire to be transferred to some of the less congested districts, on condition that funds for that purpose be furnished from their coreligionists in America. De Witte's discussion of the whole subject was liberal and statesmanlike. Unfortunately, there was, as I believe, a fundamental error in his general theory, which is the old Russian idea at the bottom of the autocracy—namely, that the State should own everything. More and more he went on extending government ownership to the railways, until the whole direction and management of them virtually centered in his office.
On this point he differed widely from his predecessor in the finance ministry, Wischniegradsky. I had met the latter years before, at the Paris Exposition, when he was at the head of the great technical school in Moscow, and found him instructive and interesting. Now I met him after his retirement from the finance ministry. Calling on him one day, I said: "You will probably build your trans-Siberian railway at a much less cost than we were able to build our first trans-continental railway; you will do it directly, by government funds, and so will probably not have to make so many rich men as we did." His answer impressed me strongly. He said: "As to a government building a railway more cheaply than private individuals, I decidedly doubt; but I would favor private individuals building it, even if the cost were greater. I like to see rich men made; they are what Russia most needs at this moment. What can capitalists do with their money? They can't eat it or drink it: they have to invest it in other enterprises; and such enterprises, to be remunerative, must meet the needs of the people. Capitalists are far more likely to invest their money in useful enterprises, and to manage these investments well, than any finance minister can be, no matter how gifted."
That he was right the history of Russia is showing more and more every day. To return to M. de Witte, it seemed strange to most onlookers that the present Emperor threw him out of the finance ministry, in which he had so greatly distinguished himself, and shelved him in one of those bodies, such as the council of state or the senate, which exist mainly as harbors or shelters for dismissed functionaries. But really there was nothing singular about it. As regards the main body at court, from the grand dukes, the women, etc., down, he had committed the sin of which Turgot and Necker were guilty when they sought to save France but found that the women, princes, and favorites of poor Louis XVI's family were determined to dip their hands into the state treasury, and were too strong to be controlled. Ruin followed the dismissal of Turgot and Necker then, and seems to be following the dismissal of De Witte now: though as I revise this chapter word comes that the Emperor has recalled him.
No doubt Prince Khilkoff, who has come in as minister of internal communications since my departure from Russia, is also a strong man; but no functionary can take the place of a great body of individuals who invest their own money in public works throughout an entire nation.
There was also another statesman in a very different field whom I found exceedingly interesting,—a statesman who had gained a power in the empire second to no other save the Emperor himself, and had centered in himself more hatred than any other Russian of recent times,—the former Emperor's tutor and virtual minister as regards ecclesiastical affairs, Pobedonostzeff. His theories are the most reactionary of all developed in modern times; and his hand was then felt, and is still felt, in every part of the empire, enforcing those theories. Whatever may be thought of his wisdom, his patriotism is not to be doubted. Though I differ from him almost totally, few men have so greatly interested me, and one of the following chapters will be devoted to him.
But there were some other so-called statesmen toward whom I had a very different feeling. One of these was the minister of the interior. Nothing could be more delusive than his manner. He always seemed about to accede to the ideas of his interlocutor, but he had one fundamental idea of his own, and only one; and that was, evidently, never to do anything which he could possibly avoid. He always seemed to me a sort of great jellyfish, looking as if he had a mission to accomplish, but, on closer examination, proving to be without consistency, and slippery. His theory apparently was, "No act, no responsibility"; and throughout the Russian Empire this principle of action, or, rather, of inaction, appears to be very widely diffused.
I had one experience with this functionary, who, I am happy to say, has since been relieved of his position and shelved among the do-nothings of the Russian senate, which showed me what he was. Two American ladies of the best breeding and culture, and bearing the most satisfactory letters of introduction, had been staying in St. Petersburg, and had met, at my table and elsewhere, some of the most interesting people in Russian society. From St. Petersburg they had gone to Moscow; and, after a pleasant stay there, had left for Vienna by way of Warsaw. Returning home late at night, about a week afterward, I found an agonizing telegram from them, stating that they had been stopped at the Austrian frontier and sent back fifty miles to a dirty little Russian village; that their baggage had all gone on to Vienna; that, there being no banker in the little hamlet where they were, their letter of credit was good for nothing; that all this was due to the want of the most trivial of formalities in a passport; that they had obtained all the vises supposed to be needed at St. Petersburg and at Moscow; and that, though the American consul at Warsaw had declared these to be sufficient to take them out of the empire, they had been stopped by a petty Russian official because they had no vise from the Warsaw police.
Early next morning I went to the minister of the interior, presented the case to him, told him all about these ladies,—their high standing, the letters they had brought, the people they had met,—assured him that nothing could be further from possibility than the slightest tendency on their part toward any interference with the Russian Government, and asked him to send a telegram authorizing their departure. He was most profuse in his declarations of his willingness to help. Nothing in the world, apparently, would give him more pleasure; and, though there was a kind of atmosphere enveloping his talk which I did not quite like, I believed that the proper order would be given. But precious time went on, and again came telegrams from the ladies that nothing was done. Again I went to the minister to urge the matter upon his attention; again he assumed the same jellyfish condition, pleasing but evasive. Then I realized the situation; went at once to the prefect of St. Petersburg, General von Wahl, although it was not strictly within his domain; and he, a man of character and vigor, took the necessary measures and the ladies were released.
Like so many other persons whom I have known who came into Russia and were delighted with it during their whole stay, these ladies returned to America most bitter haters of the empire and of everything within it.
As to Von Wahl, who seemed to me one of the very best Russian officials I met, he has since met reward for his qualities: from the Czar a transfer to a provincial governorship, and from the anarchists a bullet which, though intended to kill him, only wounded him.
Many were the sufferers from this feature in Russian administration—this shirking of labor and responsibility. Among these was a gentleman belonging to one of the most honored Russian families, who was greatly devoted to fruit-culture, and sought to bring the products of his large estates in the south of Russia into Moscow and St. Petersburg. He told me that he had tried again and again, but the officials shrugged their shoulders and would not take the trouble; that finally he had induced them to give him a freight-car and to bring a load of fruit to St. Petersburg as soon as possible; but, though the journey ought to have taken only three or four days, it actually took several weeks; and, of course, all the fruit was spoiled. As I told him of the fruit-trains which bring the products of California across our continent and distribute them to the Atlantic ports, even enabling them to be found fresh in the markets of London, he almost shed tears. This was another result of state control of railways. As a matter of fact, there is far more and better fruit to be seen on the tables of artisans in most American towns, however small, than in the lordliest houses of Moscow and St. Petersburg; and this solely because in our country energetic men conduct transportation with some little ambition to win public approval and patronage, while in Russia a horde of state officials shirk labor and care as much as possible.
Still another sufferer was a very energetic man who had held sundry high positions, but was evidently much discouraged. He showed me specimens of various rich ores from different parts of the empire, but lamented that there was no one to take hold of the work of bringing out these riches. It was perfectly clear that with the minister of the interior at that time, as in sundry other departments, the great question was "how not to do it." Evidently this minister and functionaries like him felt that if great enterprises and industries were encouraged, they would become so large as to be difficult to manage; hence, that it would be more comfortable to keep things within as moderate compass as possible.
To this easy-going view of public duty there were a few notable exceptions. While De Witte was the most eminent of these, there was one who has since become sadly renowned, and who, as I revise these lines, has just perished by the hand of an assassin. This official was De Plehve, who, during my acquaintance with him, was only an undersecretary in the interior department, but was taking, apparently, all the important duties from his superior, M. Dournovo. At various times I met him to discuss the status of sundry American insurance companies in Russia, and was favorably impressed by his insight, vigor, and courtesy. It was, therefore, a surprise to me when, on becoming a full minister, he bloomed out as a most bitter, cruel, and evidently short-sighted reactionary. The world stood amazed at the murderous cruelties against the Jews at Kishineff, which he might easily have prevented; and nothing more cruel or short-sighted than his dealings with Finland has been known since Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes. I can only explain his course by supposing that he sought to win the favor of the reactionary faction which, up to the present time, has controlled the Czar, and thus to fight his way toward the highest power. He made of the most loyal and happy part of the empire the most disloyal and wretched; he pitted himself against the patriotism, the sense of justice, and all the highest interests and sentiments of the Finnish people; and he met his death at the hands of an avenger, who, in destroying the enemy of his country, has struck a fearful blow at his country's happiness.
While a thoughtful American must condemn much which he sees in Russia, there is one thing which he cannot but admire and contrast to the disadvantage of his own country; and this is the fact that Russia sets a high value upon its citizenship. Its value, whatever it may be, is the result of centuries of struggles, of long outpourings of blood and treasure; and Russians believe that it has been bought at too great a price and is in every way too precious to be lavished and hawked about as a thing of no value. On the other hand, when one sees how the citizenship of the United States, which ought to be a millionfold more precious than that of Russia, is conferred loosely upon tens of thousands of men absolutely unfit to exercise it,—whose exercise of it seems, at times, likely to destroy republican government; when one sees the power of conferring it granted to the least respectable class of officials at the behest of ward politicians, without proper safeguards and at times without any regard to the laws; when one sees it prostituted by men of the most unfit class,—and, indeed, of the predatory class,—who have left Europe just long enough to obtain it, and then left America in order to escape the duties both of their native and their adopted country, and to avail themselves of the privileges of both citizenships without one thought of the duties of either, using them often in careers of scoundrelism,—one feels that Russia is nearer the true ideal in this respect than we are.
As a matter of fact, there is with us no petty joint-stock company in which an interest is not virtually held to be superior to this citizenship of ours for which such sacrifices have been made, and for which so many of our best men have laid down their lives. No stockholder in the pettiest manufacturing company dreams of admitting men to share in it unless they show their real fitness to be thus admitted; but admission to American citizenship is surrounded by no such safeguards: it has been cheapened and prostituted until many who formerly revered it have come to scoff at it. From this evil, at least, Russia is free.
"ALL SORTS AND CONDITIONS OF MEN" IN RUSSIA—1892-1894
Still another department which interested me was that known as the "Ministry of Public Enlightenment," its head being Count Delyanoff. He was certainly a man of culture; but the title of his department was a misnomer, for its duty was clearly to prevent enlightenment in the public at large. The Russian theory is, evidently, that a certain small number should be educated up to a certain point for the discharge of their special duties; but that, beyond this, anything like the general education of the people is to be discouraged; hence the Russian peasant is the most ignorant and helpless in Christendom.
There was evidently a disposition among very many of the most ardent Russians to make a merit of this imperfect civilization, and to cultivate hatred for any people whom they clearly saw possessing anything better: hence it came that, just as so many Frenchmen hate Great Britain, and so many in the backward, slipshod regions of our country hate New England, it was quite the fashion among large classes of Russians to hate everything German, and especially to detest the Baltic provinces.
One evening during my stay a young Russian at a social gathering of military and other officials voiced this feeling by saying, "I hope the time will soon come when we shall have cleared out all these Germans from the Russian service; they are the curse of the country." Thereupon a young American present, who was especially noted for his plain speaking, immediately answered, "How are you going to do it? I notice that, as a rule, you rarely give a position which really involves high responsibility to a Russian; you generally give it to a German. When the Emperor goes to the manoeuvers, does he dare trust his immediate surroundings to a Russian? Never; he intrusts them to General Richter, who is a Baltic-Province German. And when his Majesty is here in town does he dare trust his personal safety to a Russian? Not at all; he relies on Von Wahl, prefect of St. Petersburg, another German." And so this plain-spoken American youth went on with a full catalogue of leading Baltic-Province Germans in positions of the highest responsibility, finally saying, "You know as well as I that if the salvation of the Emperor depended on any one of you, and you should catch sight of a pretty woman, you would instantly forget your sovereign and run after her."
Richter and Von Wahl I knew, and they were certainly men whom one could respect,—thoughtful, earnest, devoted to duty. Whenever one saw the Emperor at a review, Richter was close at hand; whenever their Majesties were at the opera, or in any public place, there was Von Wahl with his eyes fastened upon them.
The young American might now add that when a man was needed to defend Port Arthur another German was chosen—Stoessel, whose heroism the whole world is now applauding, as it once applauded Todleben, the general of German birth who carried off the Russian laurels of the Crimean War.
One Russian official for whom there seemed to be deep and wide respect was Count Woronzoff-Daschkoff; and I think that our irrepressible American would have made an exception in his favor. Calling upon him one day regarding the distribution of American relief to famine-stricken peasants, I was much impressed by his straightforward honesty: he was generally credited with stopping the time-honored pilfering and plundering at the Winter Palace.
One of the most interesting of all the Russians I met was General Annenkoff. His brother-in-law, Struve, Russian minister at Washington, having given me a letter to him, our relations became somewhat close. He had greatly distinguished himself by building the trans-Caucasian railway, but his main feat had been the annexation of Bokhara. The story, as told me by a member of his family, is curious. While superintending his great force of men and pushing on the laying of the rails through the desert, his attention was suddenly called to some horsemen in the distance, riding toward him with all their might. On their arrival their leader was discovered to be a son of the Ameer of Bokhara. That potentate having just died, the other sons were trying to make their way to the throne by cutting each other's throats, but this one had thought it wise to flee to the Russians for safety. Annenkoff saw the point at once: with a large body of his cavalry he started immediately for Bokhara, his guest by his side; pushed his way through all obstacles; seated the young prince on the throne; and so made him a Russian satrap. I shall speak later of the visit of this prince to St. Petersburg. It was evident that Annenkoff, during my stay, was not in favor. It was said that he had been intrusted with large irrigation-works in order to give employment to peasants during the famine, and that he had not managed them well; but it was clear that this was not the main difficulty: he was evidently thought too progressive and liberal, and in that seething caldron of intrigue which centers at the Winter Palace his ambitions had come to grief.
Another Russian who interested me was Glalkin Wraskoy. He was devoted, night and day, to improving the Russian prison system. That there was much need of such work was certain; but the fact that this personage in government employ was so devoted to improvements, and had called together in Russia a convention of men interested in the amelioration of prison systems, led me to think that the Russian Government is not so utterly and wilfully cruel in its prison arrangements as the Western world has been led to think.
Another interesting Russian was Count Orloff Davidoff; and on my meeting him, just after his return from the Chicago Exposition, at General Annenkoff's table, he entertained me with his experiences. On my asking him what was the most amusing thing he had seen in America, he answered that it was a "sacred concert," on Sunday, at a church in Colorado Springs, in which the music of Strauss's waltzes and Offenbach's comic songs were leading features, the audience taking them all very solemnly.
In the literary direction I found Prince John Galitzin's readings from French dramas delightful. As to historical studies, the most interesting man I found was Professor Demetrieff, who was brought to my house by Pobedonostzeff. I had been reading Billbassoff's "Life of the Empress Catherine"; and, on my asking some questions regarding it, the professor said that at the death of the Empress, her son, the Emperor Paul, intrusted the examination of her papers to Rostopchine, who, on going through them, found a casket containing letters and the like, which she had evidently considered especially precious, and among these a letter from Orloff, giving the details of the murder of her husband, Peter III, at Ropscha. The letter, in substance, stated that Orloff and his associates, having attempted to seize Peter, who was evidently on his way to St. Petersburg to imprison the Empress Catherine,—if not to put her to death,—the Emperor had resisted; and that finally, in the struggle, he had been killed. Professor Demetrieff then said that the Emperor Paul showed these papers to his sons Alexander and Nicholas, who afterward succeeded him on the throne, and expressed his devout thankfulness that the killing of Peter III was not intentional, and therefore that their grandmother was not a murderess.
This reminds me that, at my first visit to St. Petersburg, I often passed, during my walks, the old palace of Paul, and that there was one series of windows carefully barred: these belonging to the rooms in which the Emperor Paul himself was assassinated in order to protect the life of his son Alexander and of the family generally.
Another Russian, Prince Serge Wolkonsky, was certainly the most versatile man I have ever known: a playwright, an actor, an essayist, an orator, a lecturer, and admirable in each of these capacities. At a dinner given me, just before my departure from St. Petersburg, by the Russians who had taken part in the Chicago Exposition, I was somewhat troubled by the fact that the speeches of the various officials were in Russian, and that, as I so imperfectly understood them, I could not know what line to take when my own speech came; but presently the chairman, Minister Delyanoff, called upon young Prince Serge, who came forward very modestly and, in admirable English, gave a summary of the whole series of Russian speeches for my benefit, concluding with an excellent speech of his own. His speeches and addresses at Chicago were really remarkable; and, when he revisited America, his lectures on Russian literature at Cornell University, at Washington, and elsewhere, were worthy of the College de France. This young man could speak fluently and idiomatically, not only his own language, but English, French, German, Italian, and I know not how many other tongues.
To meet scientific men of note my wont was to visit the Latin Quarter; and there, at the house of Professor Woeikoff of St. Petersburg University, I met, at various times, a considerable body of those best worth knowing. One of those who made an especially strong impression upon me was Admiral Makharoff. Recently has come news of his death while commanding the Russian fleet at Port Arthur—his flag-ship, with nearly all on board, sunk by a torpedo. At court, in the university quarter, and later at Washington, I met him often, and rated him among the half-dozen best Russians I ever knew. Having won fame as a vigorous and skilful commander in the Turkish war, he was devoting himself to the scientific side of his profession. He had made a success of his colossal ice-breaker in various northern waters, and was now giving his main thoughts to the mapping out, on an immense scale, of all the oceans, as regards winds and currents. As explained by him, with quiet enthusiasm, it seemed likely to be one of the greatest triumphs of the inductive method since Lord Bacon. With Senator Semenoff and Prince Gregory Galitzin I had very interesting talks on their Asiatic travels, and was greatly impressed by the simplicity and strength of Mendeleieff, who is certainly to-day one of two or three foremost living authorities in chemistry. Although men of science, unless they hold high official positions, are not to be seen at court, I was glad to find that there were some Russian nobles who appreciated them; and an admirable example of this was once shown at my own house. It was at a dinner, when there was present a young Russian of very high lineage; and I was in great doubt as to the question of precedence, this being a matter of grave import under the circumstances. At last my wife went to the nobleman himself and asked him frankly regarding it. His answer did him credit: he said, "I should be ashamed to take precedence here of a man like Mendeleieff, who is an honor to Russia in the eyes of the whole world; and I earnestly hope that he may be given the first place."
There were also various interesting women in St. Petersburg society, the reception afternoons of two of them being especially attractive: they were, indeed, in the nature of the French salons under the old regime.
One of these ladies—the Princess Wolkonsky—seemed to interest all men not absorbed in futilities; and the result was that one heard at her house the best men in St. Petersburg discussing the most interesting questions.
The other was the Austrian ambassadress, Countess Wolkenstein, whom I had slightly known, years before, as Countess Schleinitz, wife of the minister of the royal household at Berlin. On her afternoons one heard the best talk by the most interesting men; and it was at the salons of these two ladies that there took place the conversations which I have recorded in my "History of the Warfare of Science," showing the development of a legend regarding the miraculous cure of the Archbishop of St. Petersburg by Father Ivan of Cronstadt.
Another place which especially attracted me was the house of General Ignatieff, formerly ambassador at Constantinople, where, on account of his alleged want of scruples in bringing on the war with Russia, he received the nickname "Mentir Pasha." His wife was the daughter of Koutousoff, the main Russian opponent of Napoleon in 1812; and her accounts of Russia in her earlier days and of her life in Constantinople were at times fascinating.
I remember meeting at her house, on one occasion, the Princess Ourousoff, who told me that the Emperor Alexander had said to her, "I wish that every one could see Sardou's play 'Thermidor' and discover what revolution really is"; and that she had answered, "Revolutions are prepared long before they break out." That struck me as a very salutary bit of philosophy, which every Russian monarch would do well to ponder.
The young Princess Radzivill was also especially attractive. In one of her rooms hung a portrait of Balzac, taken just after death, and it was most striking. This led her to give me very interesting accounts of her aunt, Madame de Hanska, to whom Balzac wrote his famous letters, and whom he finally married. I met at her house another lady of high degree, to whom my original introduction had been somewhat curious. Dropping in one afternoon at the house of Henry Howard, the British first secretary, I met in the crowd a large lady, simply dressed, whom I had never seen before. Being presented to her, and not happening to catch her name, I still talked on, and found that she had traveled, first in Australia, then in California, thence across our continent to New York; and her accounts of what she had seen interested me greatly. But some little time afterward I met her again at the house of Princess Radzivill, and then found that she was the English Duchess of Buckingham. One day I had been talking with the Princess and her guest on the treasures of the Imperial Library, and especially the wonderful collection of autographs, among them the copy-book of Louis XIV when a child, which showed the pains taken to make him understand, even in his boyhood, that he was an irresponsible autocrat. On one of its pages the line to be copied ran as follows:
L'hommage est du aux Roys, ils font ce qu'il leur plaist.—LOUIS.
Under this the budding monarch had written the same words six times, with childish care to keep the strokes straight and the spaces regular. My account of this having led the princess to ask me to take her and her friend to the library and to show them some of these things, I gladly agreed, wrote the director, secured an appointment for a certain afternoon, and when the time came called for the ladies. But a curious contretemps arose. I had met, the day before, two bright American ladies, and on their asking me about the things best worth seeing, I had especially recommended them to visit the Imperial Library. On arriving at the door with the princess and the duchess, I was surprised to find that no preparations had been made to meet us,—in fact, that our coming seemed to be a matter of surprise; and a considerable time elapsed before the director and other officials came to us. Then I learned what the difficulty was. The two American ladies, in perfectly good faith, had visited the library a few hours before; and, on their saying that the American minister had recommended them to come, it had been taken for granted at once that THEY were the princess and the duchess, and they had been shown everything with almost regal honors, the officials never discovering the mistake until our arrival.
The American colony at St. Petersburg was very small. Interesting compatriots came from time to time on various errands, and I was glad to see them; but one whose visits were most heartily welcomed was a former consul, Mr. Prince, an original, shrewd "down-easter," and his reminiscences of some of my predecessors were full of interest to me.
One especially dwells in my mind. It had reference to a former senator of the United States who, about the year 1840, was sent to Russia as minister. There were various evidences in the archives of the legation that sobriety was not this gentleman's especial virtue, and among them very many copies of notes in which the minister, through the secretary of legation, excused himself from keeping engagements at the Foreign Office on the ground of "sudden indisposition."
Mr. Prince told me that one day this minister's valet, who was an Irishman, came to the consulate and said: "Oi 'll not stay wid his igsillincy anny longer; Oi 've done wid him."
"What's the trouble now?' said Mr. Prince.
"Well," said the man, "this morning Oi thought it was toime to get his igsillincy out of bed, for he had been dhrunk about a week and in bed most of the toime; and so Oi went to him, and says Oi, gentle-loike, 'Would your igsillincy have a cup of coffee?' whin he rose up and shtruck me in the face. On that Oi took him by the collar, lifted him out of bed, took him acrass the room, showed him his ugly face in the glass, and Oi said to him, says Oi, 'Is thim the eyes of an invoy extraorr-rrdinarry and ministher plinipotentiarry?'"
Among interesting reminders of my predecessors was a letter in the archives, written about the year 1832 by Mr. Buchanan, afterward senator, minister in London, Secretary of State, and President of the United States. It was a friendly missive to an official personage in our country, and went on somewhat as follows: "I feel almost ashamed to tell you that your letters to me, mine to you, and, indeed, everything that has come and gone between us by mail, has been read by other eyes than ours. This was true of your last letter to me, and, without doubt, it will be true of this letter. Can you imagine it? Think of the moral turpitude of a creature employed to break open private letters and to read them! Can you imagine work more degrading? What a dirty dog he must be! how despicable, indeed, he must seem to himself!" And so Mr. Buchanan went on until he wound up as follows: "Not only does this person read private letters, but he is a forger: he forges seals, and I regret to say that his imitation of the eagle on our legation seal is a VERY SORRY BIRD." Whether this dose had any salutary effect on the official concerned I never learned.
The troubles of an American representative at St. Petersburg are many, and they generally begin with the search for an apartment. It is very difficult indeed in that capital to find a properly furnished suite of rooms for a minister, and since the American representative has been made an ambassador this difficulty is greater than ever. In my own case, by especial luck and large outlay, I was able to surmount it; but many others had not been so fortunate, and the result had generally been that, whereas nearly every other power owned or held on long lease a house or apartment for its representative,—simple, decent, dignified, and known to the entire city,—the American representative had lived wherever circumstances compelled him:—sometimes on the ground-floor and sometimes in a sky-parlor, with the natural result that Russians could hardly regard the American Legation as on the same footing with that of other countries.
As I write, word comes that the present ambassador has been unable to find suitable quarters save at a rent higher than his entire salary; that the proprietors have combined, and agreed to stand by each other in holding their apartments at an enormous figure, their understanding being that Americans are rich and can be made to pay any price demanded. Nothing can be more short-sighted than the policy of our government in this respect, and I shall touch upon it again.
The diplomatic questions between the United States and Russia were many and troublesome; for, in addition to that regarding the Behring Sea fisheries, there were required additional interpretations of the Buchanan treaty as to the rights of Americans to hold real estate and to do business in Russia; arrangements for the participation of Russians in the Chicago Exposition; the protection of various American citizens of Russian birth, and especially of Israelites who had returned to Russia; care for the great American life-insurance interests in the empire; the adjustment of questions arising out of Russian religious relations with Alaska and the islands of the Northern Pacific; and last, but not least, the completion of the extradition treaty between the two nations by the incorporation of safeguards which would prevent its use against purely political offenders.
Especial attention to Israelite cases was also required. Some of these excited my deep sympathy; and, having made a very careful study of the subject, I wrote to Secretary Gresham a despatch upon it in obedience to his special request. It was the longest despatch I have ever written; and, in my apology to the secretary for its length I stated that it was prepared with no expectation that he would find time to read it, but with the idea that it might be of use at the State Department for reference. In due time I received a very kind answer stating that he had read every word of it, and thanked me most heartily for—it. The whole subject is exceedingly difficult; but it is clear that Russia has made, and is making, a fearful mistake in her way of dealing with it. There are more Israelites in Russia than in all the remainder of the world; and they are crowded together, under most exasperating regulations, in a narrow district just inside her western frontier, mainly extending through what was formerly Poland, with the result that fanaticism—Christian on one side and Jewish on the other—has developed enormously. The Talmudic rabbis are there at their worst; and the consequences are evil, not only for Russia, but for our own country. The immigration which comes to us from these regions is among the very worst that we receive from any part of the world. It is, in fact, an immigration of the unfittest; and, although noble efforts have been made by patriotic Israelites in the United States to meet the difficulty, the results have been far from satisfactory.
There were, of course, the usual adventurous Americans in political difficulties, enterprising Americans in business difficulties, and pretended Americans attempting to secure immunity under the Stars and Stripes. The same ingenious efforts to prostitute American citizenship which I had seen during my former stay in Germany were just as constant in Russia. It was the same old story. Emigrants from the Russian Empire, most of them extremely undesirable, had gone to the United States; stayed just long enough to secure naturalization,—had, indeed, in some cases secured it fraudulently before they had stayed the full time; and then, having returned to Russia, were trying to exercise the rights and evade the duties of both countries.
Many of these cases were exceedingly vexatious; and so, indeed, were some which were better founded. The great difficulty of a representative of the United States in Russia is, first, that the law of the empire is so complicated that,—to use the words of King James regarding Bacon's "Novum Organum,"—"Like the Peace of God, it passeth all understanding." It is made up of codes in part obsolete or obsolescent; ukases and counter-ukases; imperial directions and counter-directions; ministerial orders and counter-orders; police regulations and counter-regulations; with no end of suspensions, modifications, and exceptions.
The second difficulty is the fact that the Buchanan treaty of 1832, which guaranteed, apparently, everything desirable to American citizens sojourning in the empire, has been gradually construed away until its tattered remnants are practically worthless. As the world has discovered, Russia's strong point is not adherence to her treaty promises.
In this respect there is a great difference between Russia and Germany. With the latter we have made careful treaties, the laws are well known, and the American representative feels solid ground beneath his feet; but in Russia there is practically nothing of the kind, and the representative must rely on the main principles of international law, common sense, and his own powers of persuasion.
A peculiar duty during my last stay in St. Petersburg was to watch the approach of cholera, especially on the Persian frontier. Admirable precautions had been taken for securing telegraphic information; and every day I received notices from the Foreign Office as a result, which I communicated to Washington. For ages Russia had relied on fetishes of various kinds to preserve her from great epidemics; but at last her leading officials had come to realize the necessity of applying modern science to the problem, and they did this well. In the city "sanitary columns" were established, made up of small squads of officials representing the medical and engineering professions and the police; these visited every nook and corner of the town, and, having extraordinary powers for the emergency, compelled even the most dirty people to keep their premises clean. Excellent hospitals and laboratories were established, and of these I learned much from a former Cornell student who held an important position in one of them. Coming to town three or four times a week from my summer cottage in Finland, I was struck by the precautions on the Finnish and other railways: notices of what was to be done to prevent cholera and to meet it were posted, in six different languages; disinfectants were made easily accessible; the seats and hangings in the railway-cars were covered with leather cloth frequently washed with disinfectants; and to the main trains a hospital-car was attached, while a temporary hospital, well equipped, was established at each main station. In spite of this, the number of cholera patients at St. Petersburg in the middle of July rose to a very high figure, and the number of deaths each day from cholera was about one hundred.
Of these victims the most eminent was Tschaikovsky, the composer, a man of genius and a most charming character, to whom Mr. Andrew Carnegie had introduced me at New York. One evening at a dinner-party he poured out a goblet of water from a decanter on the table, drank it down, and next day was dead from Asiatic cholera. But, with this exception, the patients were, so far as I learned, almost entirely from the peasant class. Although boiled water was supplied for drinking purposes, and some public-spirited individuals went so far as to set out samovars and the means of supplying hot tea to peasant workmen, the answer of one of the muzhiks, when told that he ought to drink boiled water, indicated the peasant view: "If God had wished us to drink hot water, he would have heated the Neva."
MY RECOLLECTIONS OF POBEDONOSTZEFF—1892-1894
On arriving at St. Petersburg in 1892 to take charge of the American legation, there was one Russian whom I more desired to meet than any other—Constantine Pobedonostzeff. For some years various English and American reviews had been charging him with bigotry, cruelty, hypocrisy, and, indeed, with nearly every hateful form of political crime; but the fact remained that under Alexander III he was the most influential personage in the empire, and that, though bearing the title of "procurator-general of the Most Holy Synod," he was evidently no less powerful in civil than in ecclesiastical affairs.
As to his history, it was understood to be as follows: When the Grand Duke Nicholas, the eldest son of Alexander II,—a young man of gentle characteristics, greatly resembling his father,—died upon the Riviera, the next heir to the throne was his brother Alexander, a stalwart, taciturn guardsman, respected by all who knew him for honesty and directness, but who, having never looked forward to the throne, had been brought up simply as a soldier, with few of the gifts and graces traditional among the heirs of the Russian monarchy since the days of Catherine.
Therefore it was that it became necessary to extemporize for this soldier a training which should fit him for the duties of the position so unexpectedly opened to him; and the man chosen as his tutor was a professor at Moscow, distinguished as a jurist and theologian,—a man of remarkable force of character, and devoted to Russian ideas as distinguished from those of Western Europe: Constantine Pobedonostzeff.
During the dark and stormy days toward the end of his career, Alexander II had called in as his main adviser General Loris-Melikoff, a man of Armenian descent, in whom was mingled with the shrewd characteristics of his race a sincere desire to give to Russia a policy and development in accordance with modern ideas.
The result the world knows well. The Emperor, having taken the advice of this and other councilors,—deeply patriotic men like Miloutine, Samarine, and Tcherkassky,—had freed the serfs within his empire (twenty millions in all); had sanctioned a vast scheme by which they were to arrive at the possession of landed property; had established local self-government in the various provinces of his empire; had improved the courts of law; had introduced Western ideas into legal procedure; had greatly mitigated the severities formerly exercised toward the Jews; and had made all ready to promulgate a constitution on his approaching birthday.
But this did not satisfy the nihilistic sect. What more they wanted it is hard to say. It is more than doubtful whether Russia even then had arrived at a stage of civilization when the institutions which Alexander II had already conceded could be adopted with profit; but the leaders of the anarchic movement, with their vague longings for fruit on the day the tree was planted, decreed the Emperor's death—the assassination of the greatest benefactor that Russia has ever known, one of the greatest that humanity has known. It was, perhaps, the most fearful crime ever committed against liberty and freedom; for it blasted the hopes and aspirations of over a hundred millions of people, and doubtless for many generations.
On this the sturdy young guardsman became the Emperor Alexander III. It is related by men conversant with Russian affairs that, at the first meeting of the imperial councilors, Loris-Melikoff, believing that the young sovereign would be led by filial reverence to continue the liberal policy to which the father had devoted his life, made a speech taking this for granted, and that the majority of those present, including the Emperor, seemed in accord with him; when suddenly there arose a tall, gaunt, scholarly man, who at first very simply, but finally very eloquently, presented a different view. According to the chroniclers of the period, Pobedonostzeff told the Emperor that all so-called liberal measures, including the constitution, were a delusion; that, though such things might be suited to Western Europe, they were not suited to Russia; that the constitution of that empire had been, from time immemorial, the will of the autocrat, directed by his own sense of responsibility to the Almighty; that no other constitution was possible in Russia; that this alone was fitted to the traditions, the laws, the ideas of the hundred and twenty millions of various races under the Russian scepter; that in other parts of the world constitutional liberty, so called, had already shown itself an absurdity; that socialism, anarchism, and nihilism, with their plots and bombs, were appearing in all quarters; that murder was plotted against rulers of nations everywhere, the best of presidents having been assassinated in the very country where free institutions were supposed to have taken the most complete hold; that the principle of authority in human government was to be saved; and that this principle existed as an effective force only in Russia.
This speech is said to have carried all before it. As its immediate result came the retirement of Loris-Melikoff, followed by his death not long afterward; the entrance of Pobedonostzeff among the most cherished councilors of the Emperor; the suppression of the constitution; the discouragement of every liberal tendency; and that fanatical reaction which has been in full force ever since.
This was the man whom I especially desired to see and to understand; and therefore it was that I was very glad to receive from the State Department instructions to consult with him regarding some rather delicate matters needing adjustment between the Greek Church and our authorities in Alaska, and also in relation to the representation of Russia at the Chicago Exposition.
I found him, as one of the great ministers of the crown, residing in a ministerial palace, but still retaining, in large measure, his old quality of professor. About him was a beautiful library, with every evidence of a love for art and literature. I had gone into his presence with many feelings of doubt. Against no one in Russia had charges so bitter been made in my hearing: it was universally insisted that he was responsible for the persecution of the Roman Catholics in Poland, of the Lutherans in the Baltic provinces and in Finland, of the Stundists in Central Russia, and of the dissenting sects everywhere. He had been spoken of in the English reviews as the "Torquemada of the nineteenth century," and this epithet seemed to be generally accepted as fitting.
I found him a scholarly, kindly man, ready to discuss the business which I brought before him, and showing a wide interest in public affairs. There were few, if any, doctrines, either political or theological, which we held in common, but he seemed inclined to meet the wishes of our government as fully and fairly as he could; and thus was begun one of the most interesting acquaintances I have ever made.
His usual time of receiving his friends was on Sunday evening between nine and twelve; and very many such evenings I passed in his study, discussing with him, over glasses of fragrant Russian tea, every sort of question with the utmost freedom.
I soon found that his reasons for that course of action to which the world so generally objects are not so superficial as they are usually thought. The repressive policy which he has so earnestly adopted is based not merely upon his views as a theologian, but upon his convictions as a statesman. While, as a Russo-Greek churchman, he regards the established church of the empire as the form of Christianity most primitive and pure; and while he sees in its ritual, in its art, and in all the characteristics of its worship the nearest approach to his ideals, he looks at it also from the point of view of a statesman—as the greatest cementing power of the vast empire through which it is spread.
This being the case, he naturally opposes all other religious bodies in Russia as not merely inflicting injury upon Christianity, but as tending to the political disintegration of the empire. Never, in any of our conversations, did I hear him speak a harsh word of any other church or of any religious ideas opposed to his own; but it was clear that he regarded Protestants and dissident sects generally as but agents in the progress of disintegration which, in Western Europe, seemed approaching a crisis, and that he considered the Roman Catholic Church in Poland as practically a political machine managed by a hierarchy in deadly hostility to the Russian Empire and to Russian influence everywhere.
In discussing his own church, he never hesitated to speak plainly of its evident shortcomings. Unquestionably, one of the wishes nearest his heart is to reform the abuses which have grown up among its clergy, especially in their personal habits. Here, too, is a reason for any repressive policy which he may have exercised against other religious bodies. Everything that detracts from the established Russo-Greek Church detracts from the revenues of its clergy, and, as these are pitifully small, aids to keep the priests and their families in the low condition from which he is so earnestly endeavoring to raise them. As regards the severe policy inaugurated by Alexander III against the Jews of the empire, which Pobedonostzeff, more than any other man, is supposed to have inspired, he seemed to have no harsh feelings against Israelites as such; but his conduct seemed based upon a theory which, in various conversations, he presented with much force: namely, that Russia, having within its borders more Jews than exist in all the world besides, and having suffered greatly from these as from an organization really incapable of assimilation with the body politic, must pursue a repressive policy toward them and isolate them in order to protect its rural population.
While he was very civil in his expressions regarding the United States, he clearly considered all Western civilization a failure. He seemed to anticipate, before long, a collapse in the systems and institutions of Western Europe. To him socialism and anarchism, with all they imply, were but symptoms of a wide-spread political and social disease—indications of an approaching catastrophe destined to end a civilization which, having rejected orthodoxy, had cast aside authority, given the force of law to the whimsies of illiterate majorities, and accepted, as the voice of God, the voice of unthinking mobs, blind to their own interests and utterly incapable of working out their own good. It was evident that he regarded Russia as representing among the nations the idea of Heaven-given and church-anointed authority, as the empire destined to save the principle of divine right and the rule of the fittest.
Revolutionary efforts in Russia he discussed calmly. Referring to Loris-Melikoff, the representative of the principles most strongly opposed to his own, no word of censure escaped him. The only evidence of deep feeling on this subject he ever showed in my presence was when he referred to the writings of a well-known Russian refugee in London, and said, "He is a murderer."
As to public instruction, he evidently held to the idea so thoroughly carried out in Russia: namely, that the upper class, which is to conduct the business of the state, should be highly educated, but that the mass of the people need no education beyond what will keep them contented in the humble station to which it has pleased God to call them. A very curious example of his conservatism I noted in his remarks regarding the droshkies of St. Petersburg. The droshky-drivers are Russian peasants, simple and, as a rule, pious; rarely failing to make the sign of the cross on passing a church or shrine, or at any other moment which seems to them solemn. They are possibly picturesque, but certainly dirty, in their clothing and in all their surroundings. A conveyance more wretched than the ordinary street-droshky of a Russian city could hardly be conceived, and measures had been proposed for improving this system; but he could see no use in them. The existing system was thoroughly Russian, and that was enough. It appealed to his conservatism. The droshky-drivers, with their Russian caps, their long hair and beards, their picturesque caftans, and their deferential demeanor, satisfied his esthetic sense.
What seemed to me a clash between his orthodox conservatism on one side, and his Russian pride on the other, I discovered on my return from a visit to Moscow, in which I had sundry walks and talks with Tolstoi. On my alluding to this, he showed some interest. It was clear that he was separated by a whole orb of thought from the great novelist, yet it was none the less evident that he took pride in him. He naturally considered Tolstoi as hopelessly wrong in all his fundamental ideas, and yet was himself too much of a man of letters not to recognize in his brilliant countryman one of the glories of Russia.
But the most curious—indeed, the most amazing—revelation of the man I found in his love for American literature. He is a wide reader; and, in the whole breadth of his reading, American authors were evidently among those he preferred. Of these his favorites were Hawthorne, Lowell, and, above all, Emerson. Curious, indeed, was it to learn that this "arch-persecutor," this "Torquemada of the nineteenth century," this man whose hand is especially heavy upon Catholics and Protestants and dissenters throughout the empire, whose name is spoken with abhorrence by millions within the empire and without it, still reads, as his favorite author, the philosopher of Concord. He told me that the first book which he ever translated into Russian was Thomas a Kempis's "Imitation of Christ"; and of that he gave me the Latin original from which he made his translation, with a copy of the translation itself. But he also told me that the next book he translated was a volume of Emerson's "Essays," and he added that for years there had always lain open upon his study table a volume of Emerson's writings.
There is, thus clearly, a relation of his mind to the literature of the Western world very foreign to his feelings regarding Western religious ideas. This can be accounted for perhaps by his own character as a man of letters. That he has a distinct literary gift is certain. I have in my possession sundry articles of his, and especially a poem in manuscript, which show real poetic feeling and a marked power of expression. It is a curious fact that, though so addicted to English and American literature, he utterly refuses to converse in our language. His medium of communication with foreigners is always French. On my asking him why he would not use our language in conversation, he answered that he had learned it from books, and that his pronunciation of it would expose him to ridicule.
In various circles in St. Petersburg I heard him spoken of as a hypocrite, but a simple sense of justice compels me to declare this accusation unjust. He indeed retires into a convent for a portion of every year to join the monks in their austerities; but this practice is, I believe, the outgrowth of a deep religious feeling. On returning from one of these visits, he brought to my wife a large Easter egg of lacquered work, exquisitely illuminated. I have examined, in various parts of Europe, beautiful specimens of the best periods of mediaeval art; but in no one of them have I found anything in the way of illumination more perfect than this which he brought from his monkish brethren. In nothing did he seem to unbend more than in his unfeigned love for religious art as it exists in Russia. He discussed with me one evening sundry photographs of the new religious paintings in the cathedral of Kieff in a spirit which revealed this feeling for religious art as one of the deepest characteristics of his nature.
He was evidently equally sensitive to the beauties of religious literature. Giving me various books containing the services of the Orthodox Church, he dwelt upon the beauty of the Slavonic version of the Psalms and upon the church hymnology.
The same esthetic side of his nature was evident at various great church ceremonies. It has happened to me to see Pius IX celebrate mass, both at the high altar of St. Peter's and in the Sistine Chapel, and to witness the ceremonies of Holy Week and of Easter at the Roman basilicas, and at the time it was hard to conceive anything of the kind more impressive; but I have never seen any church functions, on the whole, more imposing than the funeral service of the Emperor Nicholas during my first visit to Russia, and various imperial weddings, funerals, name-days, and the like, during my second visit. On such occasions Pobedonostzeff frequently came over from his position among the ministers of the crown to explain to us the significance of this or that feature in the ritual of music. It was plain that these things touched what was deepest in him; it must be confessed that his attachment to the church is sincere.
Nor were these impressions made upon me alone. It fell to my lot to present to him one of the most eminent journalists our country has produced—Charles A. Dana, a man who could discuss on even terms with any European statesman all the leading modern questions. Dana had been brought into close contact with many great men; but it was plain to see—what he afterward acknowledged to me—that he was very deeply impressed by this eminent Russian. The talk of two such men threw new light upon the characteristics of Pobedonostzeff, and strengthened my impression of his intellectual sincerity.
In regard to the relation of the Russo-Greek Church to other churches I spoke to him at various times, and found in him no personal feeling of dislike to them. The nearest approach to such a feeling appeared, greatly to my surprise, in sundry references to the Greek Church as it exists in Greece. In these he showed a spirit much like that which used to be common among High-church Episcopalians in speaking of Low-church "Evangelicals." Mindful of the earnest efforts made by the Anglican communion to come into closer relations with the Russian branch of the Eastern Church, I at various times broached that subject, and the glimpses I obtained of his feeling regarding it surprised me. Previously to these interviews I had supposed that the main difficulty in the way to friendly relations between these two branches of the church universal had its origin in the "filioque" clause of the Nicene Creed. As is well known, the Eastern Church adheres to that creed in its original form,—the form in which the Holy Ghost is represented as "proceeding from the Father,"—whereas the Western Church adopts the additional words, "and from the Son." That the Russo-Greek Church is very tenacious of its position in this respect, and considers the position of the Western Church—Catholic and Protestant—as savoring of blasphemy, is well known; and there was a curious evidence of this during my second stay in Russia. Twice during that time I heard the "Missa Solennis" of Beethoven. It was first given by a splendid choir in the great hall of the University of Helsingfors. That being in Finland, which is mainly Lutheran, the Creed was sung in its Western form. Naturally, on going to hear it given by a great choir at St. Petersburg, I was curious to know how this famous clause would be dealt with. In various parts of the audience were priests of the Russo-Greek faith, yet there were very many Lutherans and Calvinists, and I watched with some interest the approach of the passage containing the disputed words; but when we reached this it was wholly omitted. Any allusion to the "procession" was evidently forbidden. Great, therefore, was my surprise when, on my asking Pobedonostzeff, as the representative of the Emperor in the Synod of the empire,—the highest assemblage in the church, and he the most influential man in it, really controlling archbishops and bishops throughout the empire,—whether the "filioque" clause is an insurmountable obstacle to union, he replied, "Not at all; that is simply a question of dialectics. But with whom are we to unite? Shall it be with the High-churchmen, the Broad-churchmen, or the Low-churchmen? These are three different bodies of men with distinctly different ideas of church order; indeed, with distinctly different creeds. Which of these is the Orthodox Church to regard as the representative of the Anglican communion?" I endeavored to show him that the union, if it took place at all, must be based on ideas and beliefs that underlie all these distinctions; but he still returned to his original proposition, which was that union is impossible until a more distinct basis than any now attainable can be arrived at.
 I find, in a letter from Pobedonostzeff, that he spells his name as here printed.
I suggested to him a visit to Great Britain and his making the acquaintance of leading Englishmen; but to this he answered that at his time of life he had no leisure for such a recreation; that his duties absolutely forbade it.
In regard to relations with the Russo-Greek Church on our own continent, he seemed to speak with great pleasure of the treatment that sundry Russian bishops had received among us. He read me letters from a member of the Russo-Greek hierarchy, full of the kindliest expressions toward Americans, and especially acknowledging their friendly reception of him and of his ministrations. Both the archbishop in his letter, and Pobedonostzeff in his talk, were very much amused over the fact that the Americans, after extending various other courtesies to the archbishop, offered him cigars.
He discussed the possibility of introducing the "Holy Orthodox Church" into the United States, but always disclaimed all zeal in religious propagandism, saying that the church authorities had quite enough work to do in extending and fortifying the church throughout the Russian Empire. He said that the pagan tribes of the imperial dominions in Asia seemed more inclined to Mohammedanism than to Christianity, and gave as the probable reason the fact that the former faith is much the simpler of the two. He was evidently unable to grasp the idea of the Congress of Religions at the Chicago Exposition, and seemed inclined to take a mildly humorous view of it as one of the droll inventions of the time.
He appeared to hold our nation as a problem apart, and was, perhaps, too civil in his conversations with me to include it in the same condemnation with the nations of Western Europe which had, in his opinion, gone hopelessly wrong. He also seemed drawn to us by his admiration for Emerson, Hawthorne, and Lowell. When Professor Norton's edition of Lowell's "Letters" came out, I at once took it to him. It evidently gave him great pleasure—perhaps because it revealed to him a very different civilization, life, and personality from anything to which he had been accustomed. Still, America seemed to be to him a sort of dreamland. He constantly returned to Russian affairs as to the great realities of the world. Discussing, as we often did, the condition and future of the wild tribes and nations within the Asiatic limits of the empire, he betrayed no desire either for crusades or for intrigues to convert them; he simply spoke of the legitimate influence of the church in civilizing them.
I recall a brilliant but denunciatory article, published in one of the English reviews some time since by a well-known nihilist, which contained, in the midst of various charges against the Russian statesman, a description of his smile, which was characterized as forbidding, and even ghastly. I watched for this smile with much interest, but it never came. A smile upon his face I have often seen; but it was a kindly smile, with no trace of anything ghastly or cruel in it.