IT was in the afternoon of the 16th of April, 1866, that St. Petersburg was startled by the news of an attempt to assassinate the Czar. The criminal, a student named Karakosoff, was arrested, but all efforts on the part of the police to draw from him any details of the plot, or the names of his accomplices, or his own name, or to unravel the mystery for themselves, were vain. The Czar was enraged. Though he had done everything to diminish, if not destroy, the efficiency of the secret police, he now punished its chief by dismissal from office.
It will be remembered that, in order to control his unruly subjects, Peter the Great instituted the “ secret inquisition,” a supreme tribunal over all political offenses in Russia. The Emperor Paul the First abolished this institution, although neither he nor his son could wholly dispense with its services; but the Emperor Nicholas, who was determined that “ not a mouse should stir in Russia without his knowledge,” reëstablished the secret police in all essentials under the innocent name of the “ Third Division,” the chief of which was, next to the Czar, the most powerful man in all the Russias. On Alexander’s accession to the throne, this darling institution of despotism received a severe blow. The new Czar was liberal; he surrounded himself with a liberal, independent, and energetic ministry, and, as he had personally, when he was grand duke, had certain very unpleasant experiences of the omniscience of the secret police, he placed the power in the hands of a goodnatured military dandy, Prince Wassily Dolgoruki.
Not satisfied with thus maiming the efficiency of the terrible system, Alexander totally discouraged its officers by throwing some of their reports into the waste-basket and dismissing spies who proved too active. Naturally, Prince Dolgoruki lost credit, his minions became careless, and thus it happened that in 1866 the plot culminating in Karakosoff’s murderous attempt on the Czar’s life could be formed in the heart of Moscow undetected. But it was no easy matter to choose a successor to the Prince Dolgoruki when he was deposed.
The office of adjutant-general, whence ministers were supplied, and which during Nicholas’s reign had been filled only by elderly men whose services had commended them, had, during Alexander’s reign, declined. It was at this critical juncture that Count Shouvaloff, then governor-general of Livonia and Courland, and recently appointed adjutantgeneral, had come to St. Petersburg to receive the insignia of his new office, and upon him fell the emperor’s choice as the successor of Prince Dolgoruki.
Peter Andrejevitsch Shouvaloff was then only thirty-eight years of age. He had manifested conspicuous administrative talents in managing the difficult German provinces, and previous to his becoming their governor he had rendered valuable services as a member of the police department. He was married to a court favorite, the widow of Count Orloff Damydoff, by which alliance he had become a man of rank and acquired a reputation for blameless conduct, a high sense of honor, and remarkable elegance of manners and address.
He was the son of the popular Grand Marshal Count Andrei, and was brought up at court in intimate association with the imperial family. In spite of all these powerful considerations to account for the emperor’s choice, it was a surprise to all St. Petersburg that so young and comparatively inexperienced a man as Count Shouvaloff should be made chief of the Third Division, and therefore second in power only to the Czar himself. But on the very first day of his appointment Count Shouvaloff justified, by a fine instance of persistence and patience, the honor the Gzar had done him.
In the room of Karakosoff were found the torn and scattered fragments of a document which, it was believed, would reveal all that was necessary to clear up the dark plot. Count Shouvaloff had these fragments placed on glass, so that they could be readily examined on both sides, and by a patient placing and replacing of them succeeded in forming the correct adjustment; and the secret was thus laid bare, including the name of Karakosoff, which the latter had so resolutely withheld.
From being a liberal, and a supporter of Pan-Slavistic ideas, Count Shouvaloff suddenly became an ultra - imperialist. He won the Czar’s entire confidence, restored the Third Division to all its former effectiveness, and when the provincial assembly of St. Petersburg was closed, in 1867, at his instigation,he sent his own cousin, who had been at the head of it, abroad. He has had many a sharp contest with the heir-apparent, on account of the latter’s correspondence with Aksakoff and other Pan-Slavists, and has more than once been on the verge of overthrow, saving himself only by direct appeal to the Czar. His polemical encounters with the father confessor of the empress have estranged her royal favor from him.
Ignatieff and the Philo-Franks hate Shouvaloff’s conservative notions about maintaining peace at almost any price, and the national parties are embittered by his uncompromising loyalty to the Czar, and his advocacy of the rights to language and religion in Russia.
On the overthrow of Walujeff, who was dismissed from the home department in the winter of 1867, at the request of the heir-apparent, only the Czar’s personal interposition saved Count Shouvaloff; and his adversaries have from that day called him, in compulsory admission of his great influence, “Peter the Fourth.” He was sent to Nice in the spring of 1872, on a mission for breaking up the morganatic marriage between the Grand Duke Alexis and Lady Alexandrine Shukowski. The American public, especially the fairer portion of it, will recall the somewhat tender interest felt in the handsome young Grand Duke Alexis during his visit to the United States, owing to this glamour of imperial romance surrounding him, in which Count Shouvaloff played by proxy the part of the cruel parent. The lovely and high-spirited Lady Alexandrine, with the church behind her and the baby son of Alexis in her arms, confronted Peter the Fourth with a resolute defiance, before which he retired in defeat.
Towards the close of 1872, events in Central Asia became of the utmost, importance. The relations between Russia and Afghanistan caused serious uneasiness at the court of St. James, and in January, 1873, Count Shouvaloff was dispatched to London on a special mission, charged with stating to England that the campaign decided upon against Khiva would be a small affair, intended simply to punish acts of brigandage and give the Khan a salutary warning; and that positive orders had been given to prevent the prolonged occupation of Khiva. He was also privately intrusted to sound the British court regarding a marriage between the Czar’s only daughter, the Grand Duchess Marie, and the heir-apparent to the throne of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Prince Alfred of Edinburgh. Although the British name was not very popular in Russia, such an alliance appeared desirable, and especially at the moment when it was necessary to conciliate interests so strongly antagonistic. Count Shouvaloff fulfilled both these delicate missions so well that in less than three weeks he returned in triumph to St. Petersburg, and has since then been universally considered certain to succeed to the chair of the aged chancellor, Prince Gortschakoff.
Thus at forty-five years of age Count Shouvaloff had become the Czar’s most trusted counselor and friend; and as he had been for years the most influential man in Russia it was a mistake to say, when, in 1876, he accepted the ambassadorship to London, that, he had been promoted. During the eight years in which he was chief of the Third Division, and had successfully defeated several of the revolutionary schemes of the Nihilists, — a society which had grown up during his régime, and had become powerful, — his energies had been strained to the utmost; the great cares and arduous labors of his position had made life burdensome. His affectionate and gifted wife, who was proud of his distinguished abilities and conspicuous station, saw with alarm that his health and even his life were endangered by the long strain; and being, moreover, herself of a retiring, homeloving temperament, entreated her husband to accept the Czar’s appointment to the English mission, which would allow him the benefit of change and comparative rest. As Shouvaloff’s uncompromising opposition to Eastern adventures in Russia’s weak and unsettled condition was so well known, he was the more eligible for the English office.
In the spring of 1876 he resigned his position as chief of police, and went as ambassador to England, where he has materially contributed to prevent the outbreak of a war between England and Russia; but his situation has been for the last year by no means wholly agreeable, and his rank has not saved him from even royal indignities, which may be said to have culminated in that of his being officially presented to Baker and Hobart pashas. Finally, at the time of Lord Derby’s resignation, when the diplomatic relations between Russia and England assumed the most threatening aspect, the Russian ambassador, Count Shouvaloff, ceased to attend the queen’s soirées.
It is said that one day Lord Salisbury waited upon Shouvaloff, announcing that the queen had observed his absence, and had expressed a hope for his early reappearance at court. This approach on the part of Lord Salisbury resulted in Count Shouvaloff’s recent “ mission ” to St. Petersburg, and in the so-called Salisbury-Shouvaloff agreement, on the strength of which England consented to attend the Berlin Congress.