THE STATE OF RUSSIA
(From a Correspondent)
[The Pioneer, Allâhâbâd, May 18, 1881]
[In H.P.B.’s Scrapbook, Vol. XI, pp. 85-86, now in the Adyar Archives, there is a pen-and-ink notation at the end of this article which says: “H.P.B.’s article.”]
The trial of the regicides is over, and four men, from the scum of Russian society, and one woman belonging to the nobility, have paid the penalty of death. But has the mystery of the tragedy of March 1st (13th) been cleared up by their execution? There is reason to seriously doubt whether anything beyond the personality of the murderers is known to Europe. The Russian Press reporter has to lock up his hard-earned information, with little chance of producing it unless he would bring down disgrace upon himself and his journal; and the foreign “special correspondents,” the most hopeless
and easiest misled individuals in the Russian metropolis, were permitted to know of the great trial just as much as the Senate would suffer them to learn and no more. They were only allowed admission on certain days in all the preceding trials, and they found themselves especially unfortunate at the last one. They were forewarned to abstain from publishing reports from their shorthand notes, and had to limit themselves to reproducing the official report of the daily numbers of Pravitelstvennaya (Government Gazette). No further back than the last foreign mail, among the numbers of the Moscow Gazette for the first week in April (old style)—a paper supposed to contain the fullest and best reports of the trial—we find a copy with two out of its four pages entirely white. Page 3 begins with a word from the middle of a sentence, the preceding columns having been obliterated by the censor. Great and unusual were the precautions taken to ensure secrecy and an undisturbed course of action to the judicial authorities; and though favoured persons, duly warned and furnished with tickets, were admitted in numbers sufficient to fill the vast hall, they were all military and civil officials. Nor should we lose sight of the fact that all the preliminary and most important examinations of criminals and witnesses had been taken secretly, and within the impenetrable precincts of the Chief Justice’s office.
Under these circumstances we can never be sure that the news received today will not be fully contradicted tomorrow. Hence, one feels more ready to give credence to information gathered from private letters than to the contradictory, foggy reports we find in most of the papers. The following comes from an eyewitness of the daily events rapidly accumulating and succeeding each other in the “Imperial Chamber of Horrors,” as the correspondent expresses it. Strange and incredible as the news may appear, it will not take students of Russian history by surprise, as it is but the continuation of a rumour spread fifteen years back, which has never entirely died out. Owing to new and ugly facts, that rumour now comes out stronger and louder than ever. It is simply this:—the secret and wealthy hand, one which
has constantly eluded grasp and which was always supposed to hold and guide the strings of the miserable and generally foredoomed marionettes known as the “executive agents of the Terrorizing Faction of the Russian Socialists,” is at last recognized. The various gangs of boys and girls—and they are hardly anything else, since out of the sixteen prisoners tried for the Kropotkine murder all were under thirty years, and eight of them under twenty-five—whenever arrested, were found to consist chiefly of penniless students, burghers, and working men; and yet, further investigation discovered invariably that these lads were possessed of very large sums of money. People can hardly be supposed to carry on secret publications on a large scale, to prepare costly mining works in various parts of the country, bombs and infernal machines pronounced by the specialists as expressing “the last word of science,” to journey from end to end of so vast an empire, to foreign countries and back, to buy houses wherein to conspire and prepare their destructive engines, and finally to maintain a host of subaltern agents—all this cannot be done, without having a banker of the Rothschild kind at their backs. The cost of the several chief mining works had been roughly calculated and found enormous. The problem, where could all that money, all these funds which seemed inexhaustible, come from, became lately very perplexing. When once a million of roubles was discovered in the portmanteau of a prisoner, the problem occupied an important place in police investigations, and became the most important one of the day. And now that the question seems answered, there is more than ever a probability that Europe will never know of it; for:—
That unanimous, persistent rumour names unhesitatingly the Grand-Duke Constantine, the late Emperor’s own brother, as the direct and chief conspirator of the regicide. . . .* What object he had in view, or what could be his personal hopes, is hard to tell. The same vox populi assures us that at the bottom of that unrelenting, cruel persecution of which the defunct Czar had been chosen the victim, there lay the hope of somehow provoking a general rise, bringing things to a revolution,
* [Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevich (1827-1892), second son of Emperor Nicholas I, married to Alexandra Iossifovna, daughter of Prince Saxen-Altenburg.—Compiler.]
during which the Grand Duke would first proclaim himself a dictator and then—well, Napoleon the III’s coup d’état was as good a model as any. And if—adds the same rumour—the ever-watchful, seemingly never discouraged Hydra of Russian Socialism had ever an extra head to raise as soon as the previous one was crushed, it is because of the untold generosity of the man who furnished the funds. Enormous sums of money have been secretly capitalized of late in foreign markets and traced to the Grand Duke, and even the priceless stones from the family ikons in his private chapel, a theft but just discovered, were taken out by no hand of a common thief, but by that of their owner.
It is hard to believe, or even to realize, the dreadful accusation, but such is the unanimous and persistent rumour. And fratricide is no uncommon stepping stone to power in Russian history; ugly facts of the most crushing character have lately transpired which would seem to preclude even the possibility of any further doubt. In the middle of April the circulation of the St. Petersburg Vedomosty was stopped, and its office pounced upon and sealed by the police, only because it had significantly advised these police “instead of making useless perquisitions in small grocery shops and the metropolis dens, to carefully examine and search the cottage on the Millionnaya,” the latter appellation being a nickname for the Grand Duke Constantine’s palace in that locality. It is positively known, too, that General Trepoff, the would-be victim of Vera Zassulitch,* acting on what he considered unimpeachable testimony, had repeatedly insisted that the late Emperor should grant him permission to make a secret search in his brother’s palace, but that the Czar had most emphatically refused, telling Trepoff that he was mad. At last, the latter managed to procure and bring the Emperor’s letter, in which the Grand Duke was so seriously compromised that upon reading it the unfortunate sovereign granted him the long-sought-for permission. But it came too late. Evidently there were spies on the Emperor’s premises; for, when General Trepoff went to the suspected palace in the dead of the night, and but a few hours after the permission had been granted, he found that the inner
* [Vera Ivanovna Zassulich (1851-1919) who was acquitted in connection with the attempted assassination of General D.Th. Trepov (1855-1906).—Compiler.]
portions of a large cupboard and of an iron safe inside it, in which the Grand Duke kept his private correspondence, had been in some mysterious way, burnt to ashes. When in the presence of his select agents Trepoff opened it, there was nothing to be seen but a thick cloud of smoke, and the seekers merely burnt their fingers with the heated metal of the safe. This manoeuvre served to obliterate every vestige of damaging proof; and the episode had to be hushed up. Another no less significant, though not a direct proof, is furnished by the Grand Duke’s son. When he had robbed his mother of her diamonds, and had fought a fist duel in which he successfully thrashed his father—for which double feat of valour he was banished and remains to this day in exile—he wrote to the Emperor pleading for mercy, which was refused. Since then he wrote several letters to the late Czar, his uncle, as well as to his cousin, the present Emperor. They were read by Princess Dolgoroukov; and, as she never was distinguished for either tact or discretion, their contents were blurted out by her in a family broil, and thus became the joint property of the court gossip. The young Grand Duke, while pleading guilty of the theft, said that he had only saved the diamonds from worse hands than his—those of the Nihilists. He declared that he personally was and would ever remain His Majesty’s most faithful and loyal subject, while his father and mother were but two traitors who conspired against the Czar’s life. It is now proved for a certainty that on the day of regicide the Emperor, yielding to the entreaties of both Loris-Melikoff and Dolgoroukov, would probably have remained at home, had not the Grand Duke Constantine’s wife suddenly thwarted Loris-Melikoff’s plans. The Grand Duchess Alexandra Iossifovna, or “Madame Constantine” as she is called, touched the Czar’s pride to the quick by remarking that “were he to abstain from showing himself on that day, the people might suspect His Majesty of being a coward.” That was enough, and the Emperor drove to his doom. It is a well-known fact that ever since March 5th (17th) she has been kept a prisoner in her palace, no one being allowed to see her but in the presence of a high official, who is said to sleep in a room
next to her own bed chamber. Then there is the fact of their eldest son, the Grand Duke Nikolay Constantinovitch being publicly arrested on the open accusation of being implicated with the Nihilists. Moreover the high office of the Amiralen-Chef held by the Grand Duke Constantine since his very childhood has been suddenly abolished, and the official Government paper has notified all Russia of it. Again, at the time when the dining room in the Winter Palace was blown up, the whole of the Imperial family was present during the catastrophe except the Grand Duke Constantine; who had, on the pretext of some business two hours before, left for Cronstadt. Nor was he at St. Petersburg on March the 1st (13th), having most unexpectedly gone again to the same place on the previous night, returning to the metropolis but three days later, pretending as an excuse a sudden and serious attack of illness upon hearing of the fearful event. Lastly, Zhelyabov is said to have made at the last hour, and hoping thereby to save his own life, a most positive and unequivocal revelation that the funds of the Russian Socialists were furnished to them by the Grand Duke.
Among other erroneous information given out by the St. Petersburg Press is the statement that Princess Yurievsky (Dolgoroukov), the late Czar’s wife, had been banished.* The
* [Princess Katherine Mihailovna Dolgorukova was born November 14/26, 1847. She was the daughter of Prince Mihail Mihailovich Dolgorukov and his wife Vera Gavrilovna, née Vishnevitzky, being therefore a direct descendant of Prince Rurik through the canonized Princes Vladimir (d. 1015) and Mihail of Chernigov (c. 1179-1246); she belonged to the same Elder Line of the Dolgorukov Family as H.P.B.’s own grandmother, Princess Helena Pavlovna Dolgorukov. Princess Katherine was therefore a distant relative of H.P.B.
Emperor Alexander II had known her since she was a child of only ten years. After the death of her parents, Katherine and her sister Marie were educated in the famous Smolny Institute at St. Petersburg at the expense of the Emperor himself, who had taken personal charge of the welfare of the entire family (the girls had four brothers). Very soon after her graduation, the strong tie which had existed between the Emperor and Katherine from the very first ripened into love. The story of this rather remarkable union is quite
story told in the letters we quote is quite different. Half insane with terror after the announced death of the Emperor, ordering her winter carriage, she rushed into it alone, unperceived in the great tumult, and commanded the coachmen to drive her “across the frontier”—anywhere but near the palaces. After hours of aimless driving the old and faithful coachman, perceiving that she had fallen from exhaustion and weeping into a kind of stupor, quietly drove her back to the Winter Palace and delivered her safely to her affrighted ladies-of-honour, who knew not where she had gone. An hour later the young Emperor, who had heard of her attempt to escape, came to her room and begged for admission. The poor woman was terribly frightened, but
unique. It withstood all criticism, enmity and even scandal. Princess Katherine gave birth to three children, one son and two daughters, by the Emperor, and acted for many years as his counsellor and refuge in times of stress and trials. Hardly a month after the death of his legitimate wife, the Empress Marie Alexandrovna, in June of 1880, the Emperor married Princess Katherine and by Imperial Ukaz secured for her the name of Princess Yuryevsky which was to be the name of their descendants as well. There is ample historical and documentary evidence to support the belief that the Emperor was about to crown Katherine as an Empress, when he fell the victim of a terrorist’s bomb.
Eventually, Princess Yuryevsky and her three children went to Paris where she was completely absorbed in their education. In later years she lived a great deal of her time at Nice, France, where she died February 15, 1922, hardly noticed at all.
The role which Princess Katherine played in the enlightened and liberal policies and plans of Emperor Alexander II was far-reaching and constructive, and it is obvious that her influence upon him was of a nature which smoothed many an asperity in his life and provided a haven from the outrageous accusations and enmity which were piled upon a ruler who was at heart humane and idealistic, often the victim of those whose utter selfishness could not be dispelled by either ideals or generous action.
While very little has ever been written about Princess Yuryevsky attention should be drawn to the following two works: Le Roman tragique de l’Empereur Alevandre II, by Maurice Paléologue, French Ambassador to Russia (Paris: Librairie Plon, 1923; 154 pp., illus.) and Katia, by Princess Marthe Bibesco (transl. by Priscilla Bibesco. New York: Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1939; xix, 256 pp., illus.).—Compiler.]
soon found out her mistake. When the old Czar, sinning against all social and religious laws, had married her on the fortieth day after the death of the Empress, great had been the public indignation. His children felt terribly annoyed, though it is now urged that the poor man must have been feeling there was no time to lose; and the prospect of the Princess being soon publicly recognized and crowned, she having prevailed upon the Emperor to fix the ceremony for next May—a determination declared by the Czar himself—was not likely to smooth the ill-feeling between the parties. But now, when the terrible blow had fallen alike upon the guilty and the innocent and Alexander III had nothing more to fear, his feelings underwent a total change. In the sincerity of his filial grief he determined to honour the memory of the martyred Czar, by showing respectful and friendly feelings to his widow, the woman his father had so devotedly loved. And so, no sooner had he entered the room than he went to the hysterically-screaming Princess, and tenderly embracing her he pledged his word of honour to forget the past and love and honour her as his father’s widow. “I solemnly promise to you to do all I can for you and your children—my brothers,” he added. The young Empress was also summoned, and a full reconciliation ensued on that day. And now the morganatic Empress is installed in the Winter Palace for ever, and made sole mistress of it; the Emperor deciding to remain in “Anitchkoff,” while the Imperial abode is to be used only on the great Court ceremonies and festival days.
Meanwhile the state of Russia is as bad, and its future as black and uncertain as ever. That neither the Nihilists, nor the people they are supposed to work for, will benefit by the murder may be inferred from the words pronounced by Alexander III a short time before the catastrophe:—“I will not follow in the steps of my father when I become the Czar, but rather in those of my grand-father,” he was heard to say.
“And now the public is in ceaseless agony,” concludes the correspondent, “lest they should also kill our new Emperor. The death of the late Czar—monstrous infamy, a dishonour
and an eternal disgrace as it was for Russia—cannot yet be looked upon as a national misfortune. But if his son is murdered the crime is sure to fall as a most terrible calamity upon the whole land. For the present Czarevitch being but a boy, we would have as Regent the Grand Duke Vladimir; and regency in Russia is historically known to have never brought aught else but public disasters. . . . Our Emperor is frightfully changed. . . . Last night I saw him coming down from his apartments. Pale, thin, and careworn, he already looks more like his shadow than the hale strong fellow he used to look two months ago, and the young Empress looks still worse. A regular panic has seized even upon the little children. One night the little Grand Duke George, late in the evening, escaped from his nurses and came running all in tears to his father, loudly screaming, ‘Papa, papa, let us go away! Oh! do let us run away to England and to aunt Alexandra; but not by rail—or we shall be blown up in the air as grandfather was. . . . Let us escape in a balloon, and they will not reach us.’ The nurses and ladies-in-waiting were all silently weeping around the child. And such scenes occur daily!”