The Making of a State: Memories and Observations, 1914-1918/the Catastrophe: Kerensky's Own Story of the Russian Revolution
by Frederick A. Stokes Co. 1927. 8vo. xx+518 pp. $6.00., with an Introduction by Henry Wickham Steed. New York:
by D. Appleton & Co. 1927, xi+377 pp. $3.00.. New York:
EACH of these books tells the story of a revolution: each deals with a short but critical period in the history of an oppressed Slavic nation; each is written by the principal character in the scenes it describes; but there the resemblance, either in theme or in treatment, ceases. President Masaryk gives a personal, but scholarly, statesmanlike, and dispassionate account of the steps by which he and his helpers won independence for Czechoslovakia. Former Premier Kerensky presents a less coherent but far more emotional and dramatic picture of eight epic months of the most thrilling experience a great nation has passed through in modern times, In the one, man shapes destiny; in the other, destiny plays with man.
Not that President Masaryk poses in a fatecompelling rule. Quite the reverse. The simplicity with which he records his meditations during the leisure of the sea voyage home from America, after the war was over and the harvest of the seed he had sown in exile was about to be reaped in his own country, is as engagingly ingenuous as the matter of those meditations was profound. ‘One thing was clear -despite science and philosophy, reason and wisdom, prudence and foresight, the lives of men and of peoples run, in large measure, otherwise than they will and wash, Still there is in them a logic which they perceive retrospectively. The efforts and plans of the most gifted political leaders, of the men who make history, reveal themselves as vaticinatio ex eventu.'
The substance of the book is an account of the campaign f education that the author and the corps of fellow count rymen who gathered around him conducted in the Allied countries and America, first, to teach the leaders of those countries who the Czechs were, what their history had been, and why they should he free; and, second, to convince those leaders that, quite apart from the often disregarded dictate.-, of abstract justice, it was for their nwn interest, to incorporate the special claims of this old-young nation in their war aims. It is not wonderful that a teacher - a
really great teacher — should have been chosen by destiny for this task; but it is almost, a miracle that a man should have been found who combined so successfully the statesman and the diplomat with the pedagogue. No short review, and indeed no review that did not go outside this single volume, could do justice to the latter phase of President Masuryk’s service to his country.
Interspersed with this narrative, however, and preceding and concluding it, are many pages where the philosopher takes the pen from the hand of the memoirist, and politician. These pages give the book a quality shared by no other work upon the war. From them may be deduced a philosophy of European history. Above all they justify democracy. The author’s searching intellect leaves few corners of the life of the countries he visited unransaeked. Witness this passing remark upon our popular literary decadents in America: ‘There are more poetry and romanticism in the Old and New Testaments, which the Puritans never tire of reading, than in their ultra-realist opponents.’ The same aversion for decadence expresses itself in this judgment upon German post-bellum pessimism: ’I do not believe in a general and final degeneration and decadence of our civilization. . . . We need calm and frank analysis and criticism of our civilization and its elements, and must make up our minds to reform concentrically every sphere of thought and action.’ We discover in the book that the Little Entente was already in gestation before the Peace onference. A few sentences throw unfamiliar light upon Professor Herron s relations with President Wilson and Mr. Balfour. American readers will be especially interested in this statement: ‘When the question was raised in official circles and in the press whether President Wilson in person should take part in the peace negotiations in Europe, I advised him not to do so, or, at least, not to remain in Europe after the opening of the Peace Conference. Knowing Wilson’s character and his enthusiasm for the League of Nations as the chief point in a peace settlement, and knowing also the personal qualifies of the European peace negotiators, I feared that each side would be disappointed with the other.’
Kerensky’s book, even in an English that, though not obscure or inadequate, at times verges upon quaintuess, has a facility and fervor of style that make one wonder what it might be in his mother tongue. It makes no pretense to being a complete history of the events it describes, cleverly escapes the air of an apologia, refrains from political polemics or social theorizing, and slaws-much generosity of judgment in appraising men and movements. Quite apart from its thrilling theme, it has the special human interest that comes from the author’s solf-revelation. It therefore gives two keys to Russia’s recent history, a first-hand version of the salient incidents that filled the short interval of premature democracy between Tsarist chaos and Bolshevist chaos, and a naïvely unretieent character expose of the mail most prominently identified with those incidents.
For many readers the latter will he the major service of the book, for it contains few facts not already known, nor does it present those facts in a new light. It is, however, a vivider portrayal of certain aspects of the revolut ion than we have hitherto possessed. No one has described the confusion of those mid-March days, the political and economic demoralization that preceded them, or the progressive disintegration that followed, more picturesquely and effectively than the author. Moreover he has not indulged in the special pleading and jury dressing of his acts that a trial lawyer might he expected to employ in presenting his case to contemporaries and posterity. He admits his mistakes — not all of them, or the fundamental error of being what he was, but probably as far as self-examination has disclosed them to him. Upon the whole, the histrionic Kerensky of the newspaper dispatches of ten years ago keeps skillfully in the background.
Yet the theme gives abundant opportunity for an actor to stage scenes to his liking. How well Kerensky resists the temptation is shown in his account of his first interview with the Tsar, at that time his prisoner at Tsarskoe Selo. ’I was trying to pull myself together as we passed through an interminable succession of apartments, preceded by a flunky.’ Imagine Mussolini making a similar effort preparatory to his first interview with King Emmanuel after the March on Rome! On the other hand, Kerensky’s description of this interview would have made his reputation as a journalist, and the character analysis that, accompanies it is almost classic: ‘He was an extremely reserved man, who distrusted arid utterly despised mankind. He was not well educated, but he had some knowledge of human nature. He did not care for anything or anyone except his soil, and perhaps his daughters. This terrible indifference to all external things made him seem like some unnatural automaton. As I studied his face I seemed to see behind his smile and his charming eyes a stiff, frozen mask of utter loneliness and desolation.’ In these respects the dethroned monarch was the antithesis of his expansive and sympathetic interlocutor. Other character studies — of which there are many in the book, since the writer’s chief interest is in men—arc equally illuminating within their limits of interest. VICTOR S. CLARK