The insane Protopopov, Minister of the Interior, seized upon the death of Rasputin to increase his influence and consolidate his position with the Tsarina. He announced that the spirit of the martyred prophet had descended upon him; he had visions and went into ecstasy in public; at times, when conversing with the Empress, he would suddenly pause and point dramatically to the empty space behind her, saying that Rasputin was there hovering over them. At other times he would see Christ blessing the Empress and confirming her political wisdom.
But this riot of fantasy, this coinage of a disordered brain, did not impair the exercise of a shrewd wit. It is said that he had his agents compose letters of a flattering nature and mail them from different parts of Russia to the Empress. In these forged epistles the writers, simulating the style and the common errors of peasants, praised the Empress for her devotion to a holy cause and exhorted her to stand fast in her policy.
The die was cast. In the Duma, Milyukov was outspoken in his denunciation of the impossible régime. Within three months from the death of Rasputin the red flag of revolt was seen in the streets of Petrograd. More ominous still, rioting began before the food shops. 'An empty stomach has no ears,' runs an ancient Russian proverb. An epidemic of madness descended upon the government. Protopopov, in the final frenzy of reactionary bureaucracy, retaliated with all the apparatus of governmental suppression. Machine guns were mounted on the roofs and at the street corners of Petrograd. On March 8 there was a monster demonstration in the streets, and Protopopov's soldiers fired into the crowd. The mobs, in reprisal, murdered every police official that fell into their hands. On March 11 the Emperor, absent at the General Headquarters of the Army at Mohilev, attempted to dissolve the Duma. But the Duma refused to be dissolved. By this time the situation in Petrograd was so out of hand that Rodzianko, President of the Duma, wired the Emperor as follows:--
The position is serious. There is anarchy in the capital. The government is paralyzed. The transportation of fuel and food is completely disorganized. The general dissatisfaction grows. Disorderly firing takes place in the streets. A person trusted by the country must be charged immediately to form a ministry.
No answer from Mohilev. The letters of the Tsarina, with their scorn of the growing popular outcry against a corrupt and inefficient government, had blinded the judgment and paralyzed the will of her uxorious consort. One generous gesture might have saved Russia and changed the course of history.
On March 12, Rodzianko sent a second telegram: -
The position is getting worse. Measures must be taken at once, because to-morrow will be too late. The last hour has struck, and the fate of the Fatherland and of the dynasty is being decided.
The same day, toward noon, the Tsar's only brother, the Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich, telephoned from Petrograd that the formation of a new government meriting the confidence of the country was imperative and should be granted at once. By way of reply the Tsar instructed General Alexeiev to thank the Grand Duke for his advice, but to say that he himself was quite capable of deciding what was to be done. On the heels of this fraternal warning a telegram arrived from Prince Golitsyn, President of the Council of Ministers, identical in tone with the message of the Grand Duke. The Emperor's reply took the form of an order to send fresh troops to Petrograd to stop the rioting.
Immediately after these significant events, and before definitely answering Prince Golitsyn, the Emperor spoke for more than one hour with someone over a private telephone. Now there were two direct lines from General Headquarters, one connecting with Petrograd, the other with the Tsarina at Tsarskoe Selo. On finishing the protracted conversation with his unseen confidential counselor, Nicholas prepared a peremptory telegram in answer to Prince Golitsyn in which he informed the President of the Council that absolutely no modification could made in the existing government. The telegram ended by ordering the immediate suppression—in the usual way—of all revolutionary movements and revolts among the soldiers of the Petrograd garrison. As this answer was sent by telegram to Petrograd, it is reasonably clear that the Emperor had not been speaking, just before, on the direct line to the capital. Otherwise the telegram was superfluous. The generals surrounding the Emperor concluded—and so must posterity—that Nicholas held that most important conversation, his last state council, with the Tsarina.
But Nicholas soon began to show apprehension, which was aggravated by a telegram from the Empress, at Tsarskoe Selo. She now wired that concessions were inevitable. For the first time she, too, began to see the end. Too late! The Tsar, on March 13, attempted to reach Tsarskoe Selo by train, but revolting troops sidetracked the imperial car and diverted it across country to Pskov. Late in the night, March 14, Nicholas established telephonic communication with Rodzianko and began to speak of concessions. But Rodzianko at the other end of the line, with tumultuous shouts from the streets proclaiming the revolt of each successive regiment as it went over to the revolution, replied: 'It is too late to talk concessions; it is time to abdicate.' By evening of the following day, March 15, two delegates of the Duma, Gutchkov and Shulgin, arrived at Pskov, and in the Emperor's private car announced to him the irrevocable will of the people. The Emperor, bowing his head, murmured, 'I have been deceived,' and signed the abdication.
The historic document was signed by the Tsar in pencil, between eleven and twelve o'clock on the night of March 15, 1917.
When we had read and approved the formula [Shulgin testifies] it seems to me that we shook hands ... but at that moment I was undoubtedly very much moved and I may be wrong. I remember that when I looked at my watch for the last time it was ten minutes before midnight. This scene of supreme importance, therefore, took place between eleven and twelve o'clock in the night of the 2/15 to the 3/16 March.1
We then took leave. It seemed to me that on neither side was there any ill feeling. For my part, I felt an immense pity for that man who had just bought back, with a single act, his past faults. The Tsar was in full control of himself, friendly rather than cold.
We had agreed with General Russky that there should be two copies of the Act signed by the Emperor, for we feared lest, in the troublous times through which we were passing, the document we bore should be lost. One copy was kept by the General; we kept the other. As I have said, the signature of the Tsar was in pencil, while the Lord Chamberlain [Count Frederiks] countersigned in ink.
It is of importance to note that Nicholas named as successor to the throne, not his son, the Tsarevitch, but his own brother, Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich. It was, in point of fact, a double abdication.
That very day, before the arrival of the Duma delegates, he summoned into his presence Professor Feodorov, one of his personal physicians.
'Tell me frankly, Serge Petrovich, is Alexis's malady incurable?'
Realizing the import of the question, Feodorov answered, 'Science teaches us, sire, that it is an incurable disease. Yet those who are afflicted with it sometimes reach an advanced old age. Still, Alexis Nikolaievich is at the mercy of an accident.'
The Tsar hung his head and sadly murmured, 'That is just what the Tsarina told me. Well, if that is the case and Alexis can never serve his country as I should like him to do, we have the right to keep him ourselves.'
He then composed the text, which ends as follows:--
Not wishing to part from our beloved son, we bequeath the heritage to our brother, the Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich. Blessing him on his accession to the throne, we adjure our brother to rule in affairs of State in full and unbroken harmony with the representatives of the people in the legislative institutions, on principles which they shall determine, and to take an inviolable oath to this effect, in the name of our dearly beloved country.
We call upon all faithful sons of the Fatherland to fulfill their sacred duty to it by obeying the Tsar in this grave time of national trial, and to help him, along with the representatives of the people, to lead the Russian State on to the path of victory, prosperity, and glory.
May the Lord God help Russia.
But the Grand Duke Michael wisely refused this dangerous dignity. The next day, March 16, he issued his manifesto:--
A heavy burden has been laid on me by the will of my brother, who, in a time of unexampled strife and popular tumult, has transferred to me the imperial throne of Russia. Sharing with the people the thought that the good of the country should stand before everything else, I have firmly decided that I will accept power only if that is the will of our great people, who must by universal suffrage elect their representatives to a Constituent Assembly, in order to determine the form of government and draw up new fundamental laws for Russia. Therefore, calling for the blessing of God, I ask all citizens of Russia to obey the Provisional Government, which has arisen and been endowed with full authority on the initiative of the Imperial Duma, until such time as the Constituent Assembly, called at the earliest possible date and elected on the basis of universal, direct, equal, and secret suffrage, shall, by its decision as to the form of government, give expression to the will of the people.
It was the last official act of the Romanovs. The Grand Duke, imprisoned by the Bolsheviki, disappeared in June 1918, and it is generally supposed that he was murdered, somewhere in the vicinity of Perm.
The Tsar attempted to recall his abdication in favor of Michael almost as soon as he had issued the document. Probably repenting of the juridical injury done his son in thus depriving him of the succession, and perhaps apprehensive of the Tsarina's reaction, he made an ineffectual attempt to set the Tsarevitch on the throne. General Denikin, in his account of the incident, furnishes the following information: -
Late at night the imperial train left for Mohilev. Dead silence, lowered blinds, and heavy, heavy thoughts. No one will ever what feelings wrestled in the breast of Nicholas II, of the monarch, the father, and the man, when on meeting Alexeiev at Mohilev, and looking straight at the latter with kindly, tired eyes, he said, irresolutely,'I have changed my mind. Please send this telegram to Petrograd.' On a small sheet of paper, in a clear hand, the Tsar had himself traced his consent to the immediate succession to the throne of his son Alexis.
Alexeiev took the telegram—and did not send it. It was too late; both manifestoes already been made public to the army and to the country. For fear of 'unsettling public opinion,' Alexeiev made no mention of the telegram and kept it in his portfolio until he passed it onto me toward the end of May, when he resigned his post of Supreme Commander in Chief. The document, of vast importance to future biographers of the Tsar, was afterward kept under seal at the Operations Department of General Headquarters.
Before signing the original abdication on small sheets of paper, which had as headings the word 'Stavka' (General Headquarters) on the left, and 'Chief of Staff' on the right, Nicholas bore proud and sonorous titles: 'Nicholas II, by God's grace, Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russias, King of Poland, Grand Duke of Finland, Tsar of Moscow, Kiev, Vladimir, Novgorod, Kazan, Astrakhan, Siberia, the Tauric Chersonese, Georgia, Lord of Pskov, Grand Duke of Smolensk, Lithuania, Volhynia, Podolia, Prince of Esthonia, Livonia, Courland, and Semigallia, Samogitia, Bielostok, Karelia, Tver, Yougoria, Perm, Viatka. . . Lord and Grand Duke of Lower Novgorod, Chernigov, Riazan, Polotsk, Rostov, Yaroslav . . Lord and Sovereign of the lands of Iberia . . . and the Provinces of Armenia . . Sovereign of the Circassian and Mountaineer Princes... Lord of Turkestan, Heir of Norway, Duke of Schleswig-Holstein Oldenburg, etc. etc.'
When Shulgin and Gutchkov stepped down from the royal car and entered their own to hurry back to expectant Petrograd, they left him plain 'Colonel Nicholas Alexandrovich Romanov.'
The Provisional Government was unusually meticulous in the matter of the Tsar's titles and saw to it that letters and newspapers reaching him in his prison should bear only the title 'Colonel.' The Tsarina's name on her mail and newspapers was likewise corrected; the appellation 'Her Majesty' was always scratched out and replaced by 'Alexandra Feodorovna Romanov.'
So, Louis XVI was called 'Citizen Capet' by his jailers. One of the Tsarina's ladies in waiting, Marfa Mouchanow, who shared her imprisonment at Tsarskoe Selo, tells us in her memoirs that this particular detail—the refusal of the Provisional Government to permit the Empress to retain her title—was of all her misfortunes the one that seemed most to have embittered her.
On March 16, the day following his abdication, Nicholas started, not to rejoin the Empress at Tsarskoe Selo, but for Mohilev, General Headquarters of the Russian army, to take leave of his troops. He remained there until the twenty-first, the day on which four representatives of the Provisional Government reached the camp and informed General Alexeiev that the ex-Tsar was under arrest and should be transported to Tsarskoe Selo. Nicholas had previously expressed his desire to retire to the Crimea, there to end his days on his estate at Livadia. The Provisional Government was unable to acquiesce. The Emperor obeyed, asking only one final privilege, to take leave of his army in a last 'Order of the Day,' which he composed as follows: -
8(21) March, 1917. No. 871
I address my soldiers, who are dear to my heart, for the last time. Since I have renounced the throne of Russia for myself and my son, power has been taken over by the Provisional Government, which has been formed on the initiative of the Duma of the Empire.
May God help it to lead Russia into the path of glory and prosperity. May God help you, my glorious soldiers, to defend the Fatherland against a cruel enemy. For two and a half years you have endured the strain of hard service; much blood has been shed, great efforts have been made, and now glorious allies will break the enemy's resistance in one common, mightier effort.
The unprecedented war must be carried through to final victory. Anyone who thinks of peace or desires it at this moment is a traitor to his country and would deliver her over to the foe. I know that every soldier worthy of the name thinks as I do.
Do your duty, protect our dear and glorious country, submit to the Provisional Government, obey your leaders, and remember that any failure in duty can only profit the enemy.
I am firmly convinced that the boundless love you bear our great country is not dead within you.
God bless you and may Saint George, the great martyr, lead you to victory.
The inexplicable mentality of the Provisional Government, its confused indecision which finally lost itself in the maze of oratory and hesitation that accelerated Bolshevism, forbade the publication of this touching farewell to the army. It was suppressed, despite the fact that it was obviously a sincere appeal to support the new authorities and probably would have strengthened their hand to a notable degree. Whether the decision to pigeonhole it was motivated by fear or exaggerated prudence or old resentments, it was the first injudicious step of a most injudicious régime.
A passing flash of pathos comes slanting across the sombre scene at this juncture. As the clouds gathered over the head of the doomed monarch, while friends and erstwhile supporters were dropping away like banqueters from a Timon of Athens, as regiment after regiment went over to the revolutionists,—one of them led by the Tsar's own kinsman, the Grand Duke Cyril,—there arrived from Kiev one whose loyalty never faltered and on whose bosom the weary, uncrowned head might rest as it had reposed there in complete confidence when an infant.
The first of his family to take her place by Nicholas's side after his fall was his mother, the Dowager Empress Maria. She remained with him until the twenty-first, when he was conducted under arrest to Tsarskoe Selo.
They were never to meet again. The broken-hearted queen mother found refuge in Denmark, her native land, whence she had departed as the lovely Princess Dagmar to wed Alexander III in 1866. During that half century she saw the political face of Europe transformed; saw dynasties flourish and fall; saw a resurgent Poland outlive the three mighty empires that had sinned the sin of the ages in partitioning that land and people among themselves as the spoils of war; finally, she saw the country over which she had ruled as joint sovereign descend into the very Valley of the Shadow. But, with the indomitable faith which seems to seize upon and sway the imagination of all who fall under the spell of Russia's mysticism, she clings imperiously to the vanished sceptre, refuses to believe that her royal son is dead, and so forbids the customary prayers for his soul.
Though the name of Nicholas Romanov has been deleted from the Almanach de Gotha, the social register of nobility, to his exiled mother he is still Tsar of all the Russias and will one day return to resume the great Russian crown which the Bolsheviki keep in the Gochrana, within the Kremlin, and exhibit on occasions to privileged visitors. With the other crown jewels this dazzling accumulation of diamonds, pearls, and precious metals is preserved in a massive steel box. On its domelike top rests the blazing Peking ruby, big as a pigeon's egg, surmounted by a cross of rarest diamonds, aggregating in all twenty-eight hundred carats. The head that last wore it was desecrated by a fiendish executioner who poured sulphutric acid over it, then smashed it into an unrecognizable pulp and burned the bones to ashes.
Beside this may be seen the Tsarina's crown, described by one who saw it recently as 'an exquisite flowerlike creation, all a-shimmer with perfectly matched diamonds and pearls—a mass of iridescent fire. It was fashioned for Catherine the Great by Pauzier of Geneva, who was the Cellini of his day.' The last head that wore this sign of royalty was, as we shall shortly see, likewise beaten into fragments at Ekaterinburg. The aged Dowager Empress, brooding now over the mysteries of life in her retreat outside Copenhagen, had also worn it in the days of pomp and glory. It has been replaced on her brow by that other diadem which mothers so often inherit: -
...A sorrow's crown of sorrow is remembering happier things.
March 22 was a dark and dreary day, as March days can be in Russia. At eleven in the morning the Emperor, accompanied by Prince Dolgoruki, Marshal of the Court, arrived at Tsarskoe Selo and went straight to the Tsarina, who was waiting in strained suspense. He was never to be separated from his family again, except for the brief moment at Tiumen during the transfer from Tobolsk to Ekaterinburg.
In the meantime, before the arrival of Nicholas, General Kornilov, Commander of the Military District of Petrograd, had waited on the distracted Tsarina to inform her that she was under arrest. Witnesses of that extraordinary scene record that the silence which followed the General's laconic announcement was that of the tomb. It was revolution in its starkest reality. The Empress, having entered the audience chamber and seated herself with her accustomed formality and air of royalty, was stunned to hear Kornilov say, 'I must request you, madame, to stand up and listen with attention to the commands I am about to impose on you.'
'Commands'! It was the first time in three hundred years that mortal had addressed this word to a Romanov.
But commands came with military directness. She was to consider herself under arrest; she was forbidden to send or receive letters without the permission of the officer in charge of the Palace; she was not to walk alone in the park or about the grounds; she was to execute immediately any further orders signified to her. Count Beckendorff, Master of the Palace, who was in attendance, showed by his countenance that he felt there was nothing left but for the earth to open and swallow them all. Little did he or the Empress seem to realize that in Petrograd, not more than fifteen miles away, an infuriated mob was parading through the streets of the capital bearing placards that called for the immediate trial and execution of the Empress as one guilty of high treason.
In April 1922, the writer of these lines made a trip to Petrograd and was permitted by the Soviet authorities to visit the spots where these revolutionary episodes were enacted.2 If my memory and notes do not deceive me, on the wall of the Tsarina's room in the Alexander Palace, in a corner near a window, hung a large tapestry depicting in life-size proportions Marie Antoinette and her children. It is said to be after Madame Vigée Lebrun's famous painting and was presented by the French Government. The ill-fate queen of France, in all the classic beauty that Burke perpetuates in vivid word portrayal of her charms, sits in regal splendor with her children grouped around her, one on her knees. The Empress of all the Russias, herself a foreign princess, as was the Austrian consort of Louis XVI, passed the latter years of her private life under the shadow of that mute warning. The fate of Marie Antoinette, though longer deferred and immeasurably more brutal when it came, was never far away from Alexandra Feodorovna.
Their careers were cast in almost identical moulds.
The daughter of Maria Theresa came as a young girl to France from a Teutonic court. Vienna of the latte eighteenth century was more a stronghold of the Hapsburg dynasty than the capital city of a distinct nationality. The Empress of Russia came from German principality, too, though a far less brilliant one—that of Hesse. Marie Antoinette journeyed to Versailles to be bride to a Dauphin destined to rule a kingdom already in the throes of incipient revolution. His ancestors had made themselves absolute personal monarchs—and passed the final reckoning on to him. Alexandra came to Russia to assume a role particularly congenial to her character in the most autocratic court of Europe. Marie Antoinette never fully lost her foreign bearing and accent. Neither did Alexandra—French and English were her preferred tongues. It is said she never spoke Russian except when obliged to—and quaintly at that. Marie Antoinette was destined to follow her husband to the death of a common criminal. So was Alexandra.
Enmity and jealousy pursued the Autrichienne. Alexandra, from the first day of her arrival, moved through a deepening atmosphere of suspicion and distrust. The day of her coronation was marred by the tragic accident at the Chodinka field where thousands of innocent citizens were trodden to death in a sudden panic that ensued when the crowds of waiting spectators broke through the police lines. The customary state ball went on as usual that night, though there were death and mourning throughout Moscow. It was regarded as an evil omen.
Marie Antoinette cherished a passionate yearning for a son, but was long denied the bliss of motherhood and was bitterly disappointed when the first child was a girl. Alexandra lived in morbid anxiety until, after four daughters, a son and heir was born who proved to be at once her joy and her undoing. Marie Antoinette was publicly accused of treasonable traffic with the enemies of France. Alexandra's name was placarded in the streets of Petrograd as a traitor and accursed Germanophile. Marie Antoinette was the victim of domestic calumny and legends of debauchery circulated in the Paris coffee shops. Alexandra had Rasputin and a similar undeserved stigma. Marie Antoinette never fully understood—in fact, mildly disdained her adopted people. Alexandra never quite fathomed the Russian masses or sympathized with them. She was paid back in like coin.
Marie Antoinette exercised a disastrous political influence during the five years that preceded the fall of he Bourbons. In her salon gathered the forces of intrigue and reactionary opposition to Parliament. The States-General she contemned. Her 'New Order' was regarded as a despotic invasion of popular rights. The Tsarina lent aid, comfort, and counsel to the invisible influences and fell victim to the dark forces that ruined the Romanovs. Marie Antoinette put Necker in power: the mob rose and chased him out. Alexandra sponsored Sturmer and Protopopov: Petrograd hoisted the red flag. Marie Antoinette was held hostage in the Tower. Alexandra passed sixteen months in an imprisonment which was mild and dignified at first, but which swept with furious crescendo to its hideous termination. Marie Antoinette worshiped her son, the Dauphin, with the entire devotion of her being. The Tsarina would not permit herself to be separated from the Hope of the Throne even in their common death.
As Marie Antoinette mounted the steps of the guillotine shortly before noon on October 16, 1793, the advance of the rescuing counter-revolution was halted and routed at Maubeuge. As the émigrés and Bourbon nobles retreated with the banners of monarchy, her head fell into the basket. Kolchak's White Army and the Czechoslovak troops were on the point of taking Ekaterinburg as Alexandra Feodorovna sank to the floor of a cellar, riddled by the murderous fire of Lettish executioners.
There now followed five months of a relatively easy and mild imprisonment in the Summer Palace. The Tsar spent his time mostly in physical exercise, digging in the garden, clearing away the snow, walking in the park, or sawing wood in the fields. The Tsarina occupied herself in the care of her children. Three of the Grand Duchesses were ill and the Tsarevitch was stricken with measles, complicated by a recurrence of his hereditary disease. In her free moments she worked unceasingly making garments and bandages for the Red Cross. The two ex-rulers were not allowed to meet or converse together, even at meals, without an officer of the guard at their elbow.
The Palace was guarded as a beleaguered fortress. On one occasion a sentry caused a wave of excitement by firing a shot to summon the commandant in order to inform him that signals, with red and green lights, were being made from the Tsar's apartments. Visions of secret code and possible rescue rose before the commandant's mind. He rushed into the house and ordered an investigation. The mystery was soon explained. The Grand Duchess Anastasia and the Tsar were sitting in the same room, the Emperor reading while his daughter, ensconced on the window ledge, was doing needlework. Her workbasket was on a table near by. As she stooped to pick up the things she needed she was alternately covering and uncovering two different lamps, one with a green shade, the other with a red, by the light of which the Tsar was reading.
The young Tsarevitch, Alexis, played in the garden and received regular instruction from his private tutor, Pierre Gilliard, a Swiss professor who was permitted to remain with the family until very near the end. His testimony, extending through thirteen years and reaching to Ekaterinburg, furnishes source material of prime historical importance. Nowhere else is it more clearly demonstrated how fatally the destiny of Russia was determined by such a pathetically human consideration as the health of the only son. In the person of that frail, winsome child you have the explanation of the Empress; you have the reason for Rasputin; you have the key for the abdication in favor of Michael and the subsequent attempted withdrawal by the Tsar; you have one of the redeeming traits in both Tsar and Tsarina. They jeopardized an empire to save one delicate boy from the clutches of a congenital disease which she, all unwittingly, had transmitted to him.
Mr. Kerensky, Procurator-General in the Provisional Government, visited the Palace frequently. On April 3, his first visit, after shaking hands with the royal family, he said to the Tsarina, 'The Queen of England asks for news of the ex-Tsarina.' Pierre Gilliard records that the Empress blushed violently. It was the first time that she had been addressed as 'ex-Tsarina.'
The British from the outset manifested a desire to assure the physical safety of the dethroned monarchs. An offer of asylum in England was made through Sir George Buchanan, British Ambassador at Petrograd, and it was understood that the German Government had agreed to permit one English ship to pass through the submarine zone without attack to meet the imperial family at Port Romanov. The benevolent design proved abortive, and around the failure has grown an acrimonious controversy. Princess Paley, widow of the murdered Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich, accuses the British Ambassador of having deliberately foiled the plan of King George to rescue his cousin. Sir George Buchanan defends himself vigorously in his published memoirs and blames the Provisional Government, who 'were not masters in their own house.'
This version is undoubtedly correct. In an interview with the author, Mr. Kerensky confirmed the report that such an offer had been made by the British Government, but so strong and hostile was the Soviet of Workmen at Petrograd that the Provisional Government did not dare to take the necessary steps. The Bolsheviki threatened to tear up the rails before the train should the Government attempt to move the imperial family. It might have been possible at a later date, but Mr. Kerensky left me under the impression that the ardor of the British Government seemed to cool. He intimated that Lloyd George's policy had changed.
In the course of the interview in question Mr. Kerensky was asked if he cared to comment on the following incident as currently reported in Russia.
During one of his visits to the Summer Palace on a tour of inspection, Mr.Kerensky was accosted by the young Tsarevitch: -
'Are you Mr. Kerensky?'
'You are Minister of Justice. Will you answer me a question?'
'Did my father have the right to abdicate for himself and for me too?'
Kerensky paused, then replied, 'As your father, he probably did not; as Emperor, I think he had the right.'
The boy seemed satisfied with the hairsplitting and returned to his play.
On hearing my story, Mr. Kerensky laughingly tossed it off as a monarchist fabrication.
During the captivity day followed day with monotonous similarity. Nicholas adapted himself to the new conditions with an amazing ease and air of indifference that was in contrast to the sullen resentment of the Tsarina. Her bitterness was directed as much against the Tsar as against her fate. She could not soon forget that double abdication. 'There must be a mistake, ' she had cried out on first hearing the news. 'It is impossible that Nicky has sacrificed our boy's claim.'. Her rage became uncontrolled when at last the truth was inescapable, and she exclaimed, 'He might at least in his fright have remembered his son.'
Her intuition, always sharper than that of Nicholas, seemed to realize the danger to their lives. 'They will put us in the fortress,' she confided one day to Marfa Mouchanow, 'and then kill us as they did Louis XVI.' To her youngest daughter, the Grand Duchess Anastasia, who was stunned and thrown into tears by the sudden reversal of fortune, Alexandra said, 'it is too early to cry yet. Keep your sorrow for another occasion.' In the words of an eyewitness, the reprimand was given 'in a hard voice.' It was only the lapse of time and the growing hardship of their common misfortune that softened her animosity toward the husband whom she considered a weakling.
The Tsar, for his part, seems to have abdicated in spirit and in truth. Though following with keen and intelligent interest the progress of the war and the movements of the Russian army, he never attempted to exercise political influence or indulge in critical comment. He accepted obscurity with the same fatalistic confidence he had shown in clinging obstinately to his waning autocracy.
Did he ever, in those long and lonely days, fall into revery that was something more than mere regret, or seek to determine, in his own mind, the historical responsibility for the processes that had culminated in this almost solitary confinement? Four years previously, in February 1918, Russia had commemorated, with all the pomp and Oriental pageantry her court excelled in, the Tercentenary of the Romanovs, and celebrated the achievements of the three hundred years that had elapsed since his ancestor, young Michael Romanov, son of the Patriarch Philaret, had ascended the throne and founded a powerful dynasty. But yesterday the word of a Romanov might have stood against the world; to-day there were only a handful of servants and a few aged courtiers to do him reverence. The ease with which the monarchy fell, and the swift, utter abandonment of the Emperor by friends and people alike, should have furnished ground for salutary meditation.
The three hundred and four years of Romanov rule which had come to such an anticlimactic end would yield for his speculations an unfolding panorama of bewildering complexity, unending political tumult, and vast geographic expansion. It records a race between education and disaster. Disaster won easily. Now that the sinister voice of his mentor, Pobyedonostsev, was stilled, and with nought save the measured tread of jailers outside his door to influence his prison thoughts, the ex Emperor may have seen in their true bearing the terrible realities which so many ardent spirits sought in vain to make him understand. Truths which in the warm glow of prosperity and security one is apt to consider as unpleasant annoyances, mere jeremiads of the hypercritical, become sombre revelations in the cold, pitiless light of adversity.
I know of no figure in the history of fallen empires more tragically ironic, in the Greek sense, than the dethroned Master of Tsarskoe Selo, already marked to atone in blood for the sins and imbecilities of three centuries of misrule.
The capital error committed by his ancestors who controlled the destiny of Russia and moulded the forms of her political life lay in their failure to create in the minds of the people a consciousness of national solidarity. Historically, Russia developed into two entities, distinct, antagonistic, and perpetually at odds with each other. Government was not conceived as a delegation of power to be exercised for the common good by a responsible trustee, but as a vested right to be jealously safeguarded and administered for the aggrandizement of a favored minority. Rulers and ruled were never fused into a single, unified community.
To be sure, there once existed strong democratic tradition in Russia. Ancient Slav civilization, as represented in the early republics of Novgorod and Pskov, was gay, boisterous, full of color, intensely individualistic and vociferously independent. These city-states were as jealous of their freedom as were ever Florence and Ghent. Novgorod's 'Court of Jaroslav', held popular assemblies (the Véché), summoned there by its great bell for legislative deliberations six hundred years before the Mayflower set sail. Its Declaration of Independence was drawn up five centuries before the Philadelphia document—and was much shorter, too: 'If the Prince is bad, into the mud with him.' And it was often acted on—so frequently, in fact, that in the course of a single century the chronicles record how the freemen of Novgorod drove out as many as thirty princes whose rule did not please them, an average of one every forty months. In 1136 Prince Vsevolod Mstislavich was summarily deposed and expelled by the hard-headed burghers because he was 'too fond of sport and neglectful of his duty.'
But these native tendencies, though cropping out sporadically in late centuries, were systematically suppressed by the Emperors,—particularly during the reign of the Ivans and Peter the Great,—as each succeeding Tsar reverted to the belief that the Russian land and the Russian folk were the private asset of the sovereign, his otchina. By the close of the seventeenth century the democracy that flourished in Novgorod was a legend.
Then, too, the Tatar domination had left its imprint on Russia's soul as definitely as the Norman invader left his mark on Anglo-Saxon civilization. Two centuries of vassalage under Eastern despots of the school of Genghis Khan and Tamerlane could not fail to modify enormously the social and political structure of Slavic communities. The taint spread from the head downward, from prince to peasant, as each learned from the Mongolian overlords the full manual of Asiatic callousness, ruthlessness, and absolutism. The foreign yoke was lifted with the fall of the Golden Horde in 1502. Slavery ended, but the slave driver remained. Did the Master of Tsarskoe Selo ever philosophize? He would have discovered a reproachful symbolism in the fact that the Russian term naigaku, 'the knout,' is one of the purely Tataric words still remaining in the Russian vocabulary. He had himself often invoked it.
Still other ghosts would rise to plague him. There were the 'reforms' of the first Peter, called by the Westernizers 'the Great,' but by the Slavophiles 'Antichrist.' He built a Colossus of the North, but its feet were of clay and the whole structure was, at that moment, tumbling down in Petrograd, fifteen miles away. Was it not this same Peter who drove Russia into strange paths unsuited to her historic traditions? He had forsaken Holy Moscow and built himself an abomination, named in vainglorious egotism 'Peter's City,' among the fogs and bogs and marshes of an alien territory. He let loose swarms of officials, clerks and other tchinovniki to batten on the substance of the people; rushed them into foreign wars and intrigues, drove his subjects to domestic revolt by extravagant taxation, ordered men to defile the image of God by forcing them to shave off their beards, and even ordained the cut of the clothes they should wear. Did he not persecute the Church of Christ by abolishing the Patriarchate? Did he not murder his own son? Verily, he had opened his 'window to Europe,' but opened it on to a swamp exuding miasmic effluvia. He exposed the pure soul of orthodoxy to the blighting infection of atheism and deism from France and made Russia's poor brain reel with the dizzying wisdom of Prussia.
What the Tatars began the Ivans, both Great and Terrible, continued, Peter perpetuated; and Nicholas was paying the penalty. The final expiation was beginning in the very palace that had become, in popular imagination, a symbol of isolation and estrangement. It was to Tsarskoe Selo that Nicholas and the imperial family fled in 1905 when the thousands of petitioners, led by Gapon, marched to the Winter Palace to seek redress of wrongs from 'the little Father'—and were massacred by his waiting Cossacks. Bloody Sunday marked a turning point in Russian history and sealed the doom of the ruling dynasty. Hilaire Belloc has a brilliant essay in support of his thesis that the French Revolution became inevitable on the day and in the hour when the Commons, excluded from the Council Hall at Versailles, rushed in indignation to the Tennis Court and there held a separate Convocation, in defiance of king, nobles, and clergy. Did Nicholas Romanov realize that the Russian Revolution became inevitable when the first peaceful petitioner fell that Sunday afternoon before the Winter Palace? Only once in eight years did the royal family reside in Petrograd—and that for four days only, on the occasion of the Tercentenary. They lived in virtual seclusion at Tsarskoe Selo, the fifteen miles to the capital constituting a moral chasm between them and their people.
And here he was, an actual prisoner in his favorite retreat, this well-intentioned and urbane, but woefully weak and indecisive, monarch. Harassed and crushed by the weight of an inherited responsibility too heavy for his shoulders, wearily answering 'Yes' or 'No' to importunate counselors who knew how to play shrewdly on his fears, his prejudices, and his superstitions, he had lived, as it were, a phantom king in a haunted palace. On the very day of his coronation he had succumbed publicly to exhaustion when entering the Cathedral of the Holy Archangels at Moscow. Fatigued by the weight of the ponderous crown, and staggering under the heavy ceremonial robe of cloth of gold fringed with ermine, he let the sceptre he was carrying slip from his grasp to the ground. In the impressionable minds of those who witnessed the incident, it remained an evil omen. The court gossipers recalled the ill-fated Louis XVI complaining, during his coronation at Rheims, that the crown was too heavy and was hurting his head.
Never master of his own will, Nicholas spent his life awaiting the judgments of the Pobyedonostsevs, the Sturmers, and the Protopopovs who surrounded him, and of the Empress who ruled him. Mr. Kerensky was to convey the next decision of Russia's newest master, Monsieur le peuple.
On August 10, the Premier of the Provisional Government waited on the ex-Tsar and announced a momentous resolution. The imperial family was to be transferred to Siberia.
1. The double date was frequent in old Russian writings and represents the difference between the Gregorian calendar in use in Western Europe and the Julian calendar which Russia tenaciously observed. Russia was, in consequence, thirteen days behind the rest of the world, in a calendar sense. The Bolsheviki abolished the Julian calendar during our stay in Moscow, and adopted a system that brought Russia in line with common usage. The change occasioned many embarrassments. Thirteen days thus disappeared mysteriously from one's life, as the calendar suddenly jumped thirteen days overnight! Some of the employees in our relief stations inquired if they would be paid for the lost working days. Of course their fears were groundless. In point of fact, the next pay day—we paid off every fortnight—came within a day after the previous one. It was a bit complicated for the ordinary muzhik and he simply marked it off as another Bolshevist trick—Author.
2. Among other rooms, we visited the study of the Tsar, which has been preserved unchanged by the Soviets. Another American, Mr.Newman, who is at present giving entertaining travelogues on Russia, enjoyed a similar privilege within the past few months. Someone must have been 'spoofing' Mr.Newman,as his remarks and photographs, published in a New York newspaper, depict 'the desk at which the Tsar signed his abdication' and show the actual pen he used. This should not be mistaken for authentic history. The Tsar signed his abdication in a railway car at Pskov, some one hundred and fifty miles distant, and used a pencil.—Author.
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