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Russian nation which has formed such autocrats, ened to break out, Ivan IV. took the opinion of or whether the autocrats have stamped this char- an Assembly for that special case. acter upon the nation!”*
At his death, in 1584, when his son Feodor, Exactly the same picture is given a century a sickly, half-witted prince, came to the throne, later by the French Captain Margeret,t who had the advisers of that Czar once more convoked an long served the Russians during the civil wars. Assembly. In the very same year, his brotherSpeaking of the State Council he says: “There in-law, Boris Godunoff, who belonged to a Tartar is no fixed number to this Council ; for it entirely family, practically assumed the governing power. depends on the Emperor to appoint as many Dissolving the Assembly, he ruled in the most of them as it pleases him. The Secret Council, absolute manner. In order to gain over the when matters of high importance are at issue, is smaller landed proprietors, he added to this pousually composed of the nearest relatives of im- litical tyranny the enslavement of that section of perial blood. By way of outward form, the ad- the peasantry which had not yet been serfs. vice of the Church dignitaries is taken, the Patri- When the long civil wars and the rule of arch being summoned to the Council with some pretenders drew toward their end, some kind of bishops. But, properly speaking, there is neither States-General had of necessity to be convoked law nor Council. There is nothing but the will for the selection of a new dynasty. This hapof the Emperor, be it good or bad, which is free pened in 1613, when Michael Romanoff, the to waste everything with fire and sword, and to young son of Philaret, the Metropolitan of Rosstrike alike the innocent and the guilty. I hold toff, was chosen. For a few years this Assembly him to be one of the most absolute princes in the continued to exist, but only with a consultative world; for all the inhabitants of the country, voice. Originally, Michael Romanoff had been whether nobles or commoners, even the Emper- selected by the States-General from the various or's own brothers, call themselves clops hospo- candidates, on account of a letter produced bedaro—that is, slaves of the Emperor."
fore them, which purported to be written by So hopeless was the bondage of the Russian Philaret, and in which that Church dignitary was nation, even at a time when, owing to the fre- made to say that the Assembly ought not to conquency of changes on the throne through long fer autocratic power upon the monarch whom civil wars, one might have thought some inde- they should elect, but that the legislative power pendence of character would assert itself among should be divided between the Czar, the House the supporters of the different monarchs or pre- of Boiars, and the States-General. The oath tenders rapidly succeeding, or fighting against, imposed upon Michael Romanoff was therefore each other in the midst of endless plots.
to the effect that he should neither decree laws
nor declare war, nor conclude treaties of peace V.
or alliance, nor inflict capital punishment or conA FEW rare cases of the convocation of a fiscation of property upon any person, except special Assembly (Zemskoi Sobor, or Zemskaia with the assent of the Boiars and the Parliament. Duma), for particular legislative purposes, must, Philaret's letter, which had induced the Ashowever, be noted.
sembly to elect his son, was afterward declared In 1549 that vicious and blood-stained tyrant, to be a forgery. The young Czar himself, a few Iran IV., or the Terrible, called an Assembly to- years later, ordered the Charter of 1613 to be gether for the discussion of a law-code. In these destroyed, and to be replaced by another, in States-General—if that name can be given them which it is laid down that Michael Romanoff was -sat the highest Church dignitaries; the abbots elected Czar “and Autocrat” of all the Russias. of the first-class cloisters ; and a number of great in course of time, the convocation even of the noblemen, or boiars. Among the elected mem- merely consultative Assembly became less and bers were the deputies of the clergy in town and less frequent. At last its existence ceased altocountry, as well as those of the nobility, of the gether. After 1682, no convocation took place merchants, and of the townsmen in general. -except once, under Catharine II., for a tempoAgain, in 1556, when a war with Poland threat- rary object.
It is to these sporadic cases of States-Gen* " Rerum Moscovitarum Commentarii," Vienna,
eral, if we may call them so, and to a charter en1549.
shrouded in some historical doubt, that Russian + " Estat de l'Empire de Russie et Grand Duché de liberals have in our time, now and then, referred Moscovie," Paris, 1607. 1 This title, as I have shown in a special essay in
as to a precedent. At least they did so in writ“Fraser,” of June, 1876 (“The Russian Imperial Title: ings published abroad; Russian censorship hava Forgotten Page of History "), was not founded for the ing forbidden the subject to be touched upon at first time in 1721, but had already been in use before,
all. toward the end of the sixteenth century.
Peter I., Catharine I., Peter II., Anna, Elizabeth, Peter III., Catharine II., Paul I., Alexander In 1740 we come upon a harrowing event. I., Nicholas, Alexander II., all ruled on the strict A cabinet minister, Volynski, was tried on the autocratic principle. Peter I.—" the Great”- charge of having aimed at a diminution of the enlarged upon it by extending the liability to cor- armed force of the state; of having (strange poral punishment from the nobility, which was crime !) described that monster in human shape, already subjected to the knout, to the imperial Ivan the Terrible, as a tyrant; and—worst of all family itself. He had his own sisters whipped! –of having praised the Polish form of governHe put his own son to the torture, who died from ment, while saying that “one had everything to it. A bestial reign—this reign of a gifted mad- fear from the absolutistic power in Russia.” man, who took a delight in chopping off the Volynski had committed the imprudence of writheads of a row of alleged political offenders, ing a “ Project for the Reform of the Affairs of while quaffing brandy between each fatal stroke the State.” There were some historical remarks of his reddened axe. It was sultanism with a in it, which the Empress interpreted as a comvengeance.
parison between herself and Messalina. Such
was her wrath that she looked upon all those who VI.
had read the memorandum as accomplices of the WHAT were the Russian nobility—the de- unfortunate Minister. scendants of a proud and brave conquering race The revenge was terrible. It was done in the -doing in the mean time, in presence of these old Oriental style of Genghis Khan and Timur saturnalia of tyranny ?
Lenk. Brought at the Czarina's order before a Strange to say, though humbled to the dust secret tribunal, mainly composed of military men, by an insane autocracy, they did not wring the Volynski was sentenced to be impaled alive, after smallest political concession for their own order having his tongue cut out. His alleged accomfrom the arrogant monarchical power—not even plices were to be broken upon the wheel, or bewhen women sat on the throne. All manly spirit headed. His innocent children were condemned seemed to have gone from them. True, at the to exile for life. death of Peter I., in 1725, some suspicion arose In her great mercy, the Empress commuted that there was a party among them which might these sentences in the following manner : She try a coup for the sake of obtaining a constitu- ordained that Volynski was to have his tongue tion, similar to the one in neighboring Sweden or cut out, and then his right hand chopped off. Poland. But the display of some guns, and the His son was exiled to Siberia until the age of marching out of the Imperial Guard by Prince fifteen, then to be sent as a common soldier to a Menshikoff, with whose family she had once garrison in Kamtchatka. His daughters were to lived as a servant, sufficed to cow the would-be be kept in a convent under strict watch, and nevconspirators, and to insure the proclamation of er to be allowed to issue from the cloister gates. Catharine I. as autocratic ruler. By origin, that Some of the so-called accomplices of the unEmpress was a soldier's daughter from Livonia. happy would-be reformer were beheaded, or First a housemaid ; then alternately courtesan transported as prisoners and exiles to distant and mistress of a general, of a nobleman, and parts of the country. This was her imperial lastly of Czar Peter, she finally came to govern mercy: an empire in true despotic fashion, with the aid It is said that the Empress fell afterward into of favorites; a degraded nobility slavishly dan- a state of extreme terror, thinking she was purcing attendance upon her, even when she had be- sued at night by the mutilated, blood-bespattered come a helpless drunkard and debauchee. phantom of her former minister. On her death
When Peter II. died in 1730, the two leading bed she imagined seeing him standing before her ministers in the State Council—the Dolgorukoffs in mute reproach. Unutterable fear agitated her and the Gallitzins—seemed to be intent at last at the seeming apparition. Let us hope that upon limiting the power of the Crown. The there was really enough conscience left in her to supporters of merely oligarchial views and the feel anguish at the remembrance of her fiendish friends of constitutional aspirations were, how- deed ! ever, at loggerheads. The result was, that a In 1765 Catharine II., herself a most arbisimple condition was imposed upon Anna, upon trary ruler under a philosophical mask, read the whom the crown had been conferred, that she documents of Volynski's trial. She left behind should follow in everything the advice of the her an expression of disapproval, going so far Supreme State Council. Parliamentary institu- even as to avow that the unfortunate sufferer had tions were not stipulated for. Anna subscribed been “a good and zealous patriot, and an innoto the terms; but a fortnight after her arrival she cent man, who had unjustly suffered death,” easily restored the autocratic system by a suc- Still, the autocratic form of government remained cessful conspiracy and state-stroke of her own. all the same under Catharine II.
Under this violent ruler, men were degraded beWe now come to more modern times, only to yond endurance. By a ukase he compelled all get deeper into imperial horrors.
people that met him in their carriages to step In 1775, Nathalie, the wife of the then Grand down and kneel before him in the street. The Duke Paul, a German princess from Hesse- slightest whisper of complaint marked a person Darmstadt, privately elaborated with Count Panin as a candidate for transportation to Siberia. In a constitutional project. A woman of consider- his terrible fits of anger he did not even spare the able intellect, she seems to have understood that dignity of his fellow-monarchs—as when, for inthis was the only means of closing the era of stance, he challenged to duel every sovereign oligarchical plots and palace conspiracies ending that would not declare war against England. in murder. Her plan provided for two Houses Such a challenge, addressed to the King of Denof Parliament; it had also the gradual emancipa- mark, he had published in the “ Official Gazette' tion of the serfs for its object. Panin himself, of St. Petersburg. He was on the verge of downformerly Russian ambassador in Sweden, had ac- right insanity—as all princes are apt to be whose quired a great liking there for the parliamentary violence of character is not reined in by any lim
itation of power. system. Still, even his project was rather of an oligarchical than of a really constitutional nature;
The end was that ghastly nocturnal scene, it would have limited the power of the Crown when Paul, attacked by the conspirators, died of without conferring freedom upon the nation.
the well-known “ apoplectic stroke.” The midCatharine II.. on hearing of this project, de- night surprise originated with the Princes Suboff ; clared strongly against it. Soon afterward, Na- Count Pahlen, the Governor-General of St. Pethalie died in child-bed, and a rumor spread of tersburg; the Vice-Chancellor, Count Panin; her death having been brought about by the mid- General Uwaroff, and some others. They perwife who had attended upon her. Considering sonally did the deed. Paul's son — the future the many violent deaths in the imperial house of Emperor Alexander I.-had been drawn into the Russia, the rumor had nothing improbable in it, plot. He gave his assent to a demand for his though no proof could be furnished in point of father's abdication; promising, it is said, by word fact-except the somewhat strange circumstance
of mouth, that if he himself were placed on the that “this midwife amassed a great fortune, and throne he would grant a charter. that Prince Potemkin” (Catharine's favorite),
It was easy to foresee what result the demand “ who was so haughty and so arrogant toward for Paul's abdication would have. Nobody exeverybody, went from time to time on a visit to pected that this proud Muscovite Sultan, whose her.”* The mystery of Nathalie's death was
reason was always overmastered by his wrathful followed by the revelation, through a heap of let- impetuosity, would yield to a threat. So the ters found in a secret drawer, of her intimate issue of the assault upon his autocratic privilege relations with Count Razumowski, once the friend could not be doubtful in his son's mind. The of Paul, in his boyhood. Catharine II. had the Czar's bedroom had but a single door. The door cruelty to communicate these letters to her son,
toward the Empress's apartments he had shortly who thence fell into an access of rage, soon cul- before had walled up, expecting danger from that minating in occasional outbreaks of madness.
direction. This proved a help to the conspiraA slight hope there was, for a moment, of a
tors. When the monarch, driven to bay, jumped constitution being obtained after the violent death up from his couch with drawn sword, trying to of Paul I., brought upon him by a palace con
reach the window, they surrounded, throttled, and spiracy.
battered him into such a hideous, mutilated mass He was the son of the unfortunate Peter III., of flesh, that the sorry remnants of whatever huwho himself had been murdered at the instiga- manity there was in this mad specimen of royalty tion of his own wife, Catharine II. It was Count had afterward to be hidden from the members of Orloff, the brother of the paramour of the Em
his family. press, who murdered Czar Peter. Tyrannic au
This was one of the typical scenes of absolutocrat as she was, Catharine, in her arbitrary tistic government, as practiced in Russia for a dealings with men, yet preserved some outward long time past. politeness of form. In her successor, Paul, the
On Pahlen and the three brothers Suboff anabsolutistic fury knew no bounds. “Sir," he nouncing the event to the Czarevitch, who was once said to a French emigrant, “there is no
now Alexander I., the exclamation of the new nobleman except the man to whom I deign to Emperor simply was, “What a page in history!" speak, and only as long as I speak to him!” Count Pahlen answered, “Sire, the pages that
are to follow will throw oblivion over this !” In * See Prince Dolgorukoff's " La Vérité sur la Rus- these words, a reminder was contained of Alexsie," from which some of the above details are taken. ander's promise that he would grant a charter.
Of German extraction, but a Russian subject by “the principal provisions of the Code of the birth, Pestel had been educated at Dresden, in League of Well-Being, the division of the subGermany, and afterward been in the corps of ject-matter into chapters, its most remarkable Imperial Pages in Russia. His father was Gov- ideas, and even the very style of writing, show ernor-General of Siberia. Young Pestel took an imitation, and, in a great measure, a translapart in the campaigns against France; became tion from the German original”—that is, from a captain; then adjutant of Marshal Wittgen- the statutes of the Tugend-Bund. No doubt stein; and, lastly, commander of the infantry Pestel had become acquainted with these latter regiment of Viatka. It is believed that he was during the war in which he had served. The the founder, in 1817, of “The League of Well- German “ League of Virtue" having counted in Being,” also called “The Worthy Sons of the its ranks many leading members in high adminFatherland."
istrative position, who never ceased to be zealThis was a short-lived association, probably ously loyal to the Crown, some of the Russian on account of the great divergence of opinions imitators may have wished to apply the same among its members. Nicholas Turguenieff, a procedure to a very dissimilar case.
This was writer otherwise most competent to speak on the not the view of Pestel and his friends. Soon, subject of these occult movements, denies the therefore, things assumed a more decided aspect, existence of “The League of Well-Being.” But which rapidly changed into a somberer hue of the report of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry, tragic import. which in later years sat to investigate the origin
IX. of the revolutionary outbreak of December, 1825, AFTER the dissolution of the short-lived positively affirms that a league of the name men- League of 1817, a secret association was started tioned had been formed in 1817. As a rule, the under the name of “The Society of Public Welcredibility of a Russian Government commission fare.” Its name was similar enough to the preis not to be placed on a par with the statement vious one ; its rules, too, were copied from those of or the opinion of a man of so high a character as the German Tugend-Bund. The members were Nicholas Turguenieff. It must, however, not be almost all officers or writers. Modern constituforgotten that his book was written in the way tional ideas were still the prevailing ones in it; of self-defense against the judicial charges of a but, here and there, democratic notions came up Government whose persecuting arm reached very among the more ardent associates. French, Gerfar, and which even sought-unsuccessfully, of man, and English principles of progress and libcourse—to obtain the surrender of Turguenieff's eralism served as themes of discussion. Of person from an English Government ! It is, French writers, Benjamin Constant especially was therefore, not impossible that Turguenieff may made use of as an intellectual guide. have been unnecessarily inclined to doubt the At that time, a few of the older Liberals, such existence of a secret association of which he had as Admiral Mordwinoff, who wished for a change not been a member, but whose doings were in the moderate parliamentary sense, were not nevertheless lugged into a judicial report against prepared for the emancipation of the serfs, to himself.
which Turguenieff attached great importance. Some of the “conspirators” of this first “We must begin with the throne,” said Mordleague can not have been very dangerous men; winoff; “not with the serfs. It is from above at least not to the monarchical principle. There that one sweeps the stairs !” He would have were those who, in the spirit of Stein, Harden- been content with the introduction of a constiberg, Gneisenau, Arndt, and Jahn, sought to save tution on the most aristocratic basis, curtailing monarchy in spite of itself. They did all they the power of the Crown, but leaving the vast could to maintain a line of connection with the mass of the people at the mercy of the landholdexisting powers. A few of the Russian would- ers. However, the majority of the would-be rebe conspirators were artless enough to propose formers entertained better, more advanced ideas; drawing the Emperor himself into the secret, and they continually tried to impress the less unless the proposal was the very depth of art, progressive members with the necessity of workand had merely the object of securing for them, ing out a great measure of peasant enfranchisein case of detection, a colorable excuse, however ment, so as to win over the masses. Those who lame. The judicial report alluded to does not, at present always speak of the “Liberator-Czar" indeed, put this interpretation upon the strange Alexander II. ought to note this fact of the early suggestion. It simply says that “ several mem- aspiration toward a manumission of the serfs bers proposed to solicit the assent of the late among the opponents of irresponsible czardom. Emperor (Alexander I.) to the establishment of The Society of Public Welfare had members the society,"
in the capital, at Moscow, and at Tultschin, in In another passage, the report declares that which latter place the headquarters of the Second Army were established. One of the generals, a who then governed Austria, and in home matters commander in the Caucasus, learned, on his arri- under the influence of the cruel and pitiless Arakval at St. Petersburg, that the Emperor had been tcheïeff, he abjured the tendencies of his youth, secretly informed of the existence of the society, and entered upon a completely reactionary course and that Government had its eyes upon the though without adding the violence and the members. This he communicated to some of brutality which his brother Nicholas afterward the conspirators, adding that Alexander thought showed.” Such is the appreciation of the characthe society a large one—which, in point of fact, ter of Alexander I. by a writer of most moderate was very far from being the case—and that this constitutional views, who always shows as much alone kept him from “playing them a bad trick.' reserve as is possible in judging of the acts of One of the members of the society, General crowned heads. Michael Orloff, also heard through his brother, When, in consequence of this reactionary who was the Emperor's adjutant, that Alexander course of government, matters approached a I. knew of the meetings of the would-be con- crisis, the Society of Public Welfare. was disspirators.
solved-in appearance at least; for immediately Here we have a clew to the Czar's cautious afterward it was reorganized. Nicholas Turgueconduct and to his occasional affectation of lib- nieff presided at the meeting which pronounced eral sympathies. Altogether, his position was a the dissolution. In reality, the league was transdubious one. The Congress of Vienna had stip- formed by the bolder men, who had only resorted ulated for the “Kingdom of Poland”—as the to this manœuvre in order to get rid of the timid. Russian portion of the dismembered country was Turguenieff professes to have from that time discalled — a representative form of government. continued his connection with the society. Hence the Czar, autocrat in the larger part of his
X. empire, had to observe some constitutional forms in the western section of his dominions. At the The Society of Public Welfare had existed opening of the Polish Diet in 1818, he made a with two chief branches -a “Society of the speech which seemed to foreshadow similar par- North," comprising St. Petersburg and Moscow, liamentary institutions for Russia. These, how- and a “Society of the South,” with Kiev and one ever, he was evidently bent, at heart, upon pre
or two other southern towns as head-centers. venting as long as he could. At the same time In the Society of the North, where the less he knew that he was surrounded by men longing advanced ideas prevailed, dissatisfaction gradufor a parliamentary régime-men who might at ally arose against Pestel, who entirely swayed any moment spring a mine upon him, but whom the southern branch. Upon this, Pestel himself it would not be safe to attack just now.
brought about a general meeting of the memHis father's terrible end was before his eyes bers at Moscow, in February, 1821, where high as a warning. In the complicated position in words were bandied between the different partiwhich he was placed, Alexander I. no doubt sans. Finally, as already mentioned, the dissofeared that if he unbosomed himself to persons lution of the league was pronounced under the of his immediate surrounding, asking them to chairmanship of Nicholas Turguenieff. proceed against others of equal social or military Colonel Abramoff, who protested against this rank, the very men so addressed in confidence resolution, exclaimed that “the society could not would perhaps turn out to be themselves mem- be dissolved, as it would continue to exist even bers of the secret society. Would he not thus if he alone were to remain of it.” He evidently bring about his own doom? Would not his ene- did not know what Pestel and his friends aimed mies, forewarned, arm themselves at once, and at. Their only object had been to weed out the proceed against him? Must not the danger less audacious. A fresh society, under the direchave appeared to him all the greater because he torate of Pestel, Yushneffski, and Nikita Murawieff, thought-erroneously, it is true—the society to be was at once established. The activity of this new a large one?
league, whose headquarters were at Tultschin, But he knew how to dissimulate.“ By the was such that in the course of less than two years falseness of his character,” Prince Peter Doigo- four branch societies were called into existence. rukoff says, “ he was the worthy grandson of Soon almost the whole staff of Field-Marshal Catharine, whose remarkable intellect he was,
Prince Wittgenstein consisted of members of the however, far from possessing. ... During the conspiracy-without the Prince himself, or the first eighteen years of his reign he played the Chief of the Staff
, Paul Kisseleff, suspecting anyLiberal in Europe, and wore the mask of the
thing wrong! same in Russia. But during the last years
Prince Dolgorukoff, in speaking of these secret of his government, having fallen, as regards for- propagandistic labors, says eign policy, under the influence of the Minister The Liberals of St. Petersburg and Moscow