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THE Emperor Nicholas II has already reigned for nearly ten years, and ruled for fully eight; yet the concrete man, his individual character, and the order of motives to which it is sensible, are nearly all as legendary as those of Numa Pompilius. Clouds of journalistic myths, mainly of German origin, enwrap his figure, hiding it from the vulgar gaze as thoroughly as though he were the Dalai Lama; and the fanciful portrait which we are asked to
; accept is as abstract and as colourless as that of our legendary Russian princes. Beyond the precincts of the palace his person is transfigured, his most trivial deeds are glorified, and his least disinterested motives are twisted and pulled into line with the fundamental principles of ethics. The result is a caricature closely bordering on the grotesque. Nikolai Alexandrovitch is depicted as a prince of peace, a Slav Messiah sent for the salvation, not of his own people only, but of all the world. The most precious porcelain of human clay was lavished in the making of this unique ruler, who stands upon a much higher level than that of the common run of mortals or of kings, in virtue, not only of the dread responsibilities laid upon him by the Most High, but also by reason of his own passionate love of humanity and his selfless devotion to the true and the good. In short, he is an • Übermensch' whose innate goodness of heart exceeds even his irresponsible power.
But no newspaper hero is a prophet in his own country for long; and Nicholas II did not play the part in Russia for more than a twelvemonth. His father's reign had ended in utter moral exhaustion, in the blasting of hopes, the killing of enthusiasm, the blackness of despair. Better things were confidently expected of the son, because worse were rashly held to be impossible. But the credulous masses were again mistaken, and soon became conscious of their error. All Europe will know it soon.
Nicholas II began his reign in 1894 as a highly sensitive, retiring young man, who shrank instinctively from the fierce light that beats upon the throne. In spite of his camp experience he was still his mother's child,
* This article is from the pen of a Russian official of high rank
passivity his predominant trait, and diffidence one of its temporary symptoms. But that phase of his existence was short, and the change from the chrysalis to the butterfly very rapid.
Men still call vividly to mind the Emperor's first meeting with one of the historic institutions of the Empire. It was a raw November day in 1894. The members of the State Council, many of them veteran officials, who had served the Tsar's great-grandfather, were convened to do homage to the new monarch, and long before the time fixed were gathered together at the appointed place, their bodies covered with gorgeous costumes and their faces hidden with courtly masks expressive of awe and admiration. But he came and went like a whiff of wind in a sandy waste, leaving them rubbing their eyes. They had expected imperial majesty, but were confronted with childish constraint, a shambling gait, a furtive glance, and spasmodic movements. An undersized, pithless lad sidled into the apartment in which these hoary dignitaries were respectfully awaiting him. With downcast eyes, and in a shrill falsetto voice, he hastily spoke a single sentence: Gentlemen, in the name of
my late father, I thank you for your services,' hesitated for a second, and then, turning on his heels, he was gone. They looked at each other, some in amazement, others in pain, many uttering a mental prayer for the weal of the nation; and after an awkward pause they dispersed to their homes.
The nation's next meeting with his Majesty took place a few days later, upon an occasion as solemn as the first; but in the interval he had been hypnotised by M. Pobedonostseff, the lay-bishop of autocracy, who has the secret of spiritually anointing and intellectually equipping the chosen of the Lord. The key-note of the Emperor's second appearance was dignity-inaccessible, almost superhuman dignity. All Russia had then gathered together in the persons of the representatives of the Zemstvos or local boards—we may call them embryonic county councilsto do homage to his Majesty on his accession to the throne. Loyal addresses without number, drawn up in the flowery language of oriental servility, had been presented from all those institutions. One of these documents--and only one-had seemed to M. Pobedonostseff
to smack of Liberalism. No less loyal in form or spirit than those of the other boards, the address drawn up by the council of Tver vaguely expressed the modest hope that his Majesty's confidence might not be wholly restricted to the bureaucracy, but would likewise be shared by the Russian people and by the Zemstvos, whose devotion to the throne was proverbial.
This was a reasonable wish; it could not seriously be dubbed a crime; and, even if it bespoke a certain spirit of mild independence, it was after all the act of a single Zemstvo, whereas the men who had come to do homage to the Emperor were the spokesmen, not of one Zemstvo, but of all Russia. Yet the autocrat strode majestically into the brilliantly lighted hall, and with knitted brows and tightly drawn lips turned wrathfully upon the chosen men of the nation and, stamping his little foot, ordered them to put away such chimerical notions, which he would never entertain. Such was the Tsar's first imperious assertion of his divine viceroyalty; and even staunch partisans of the autocracy blamed it as harsh and ill-advised.
Between those two public appearances of Nicholas II lay that short period of suggestion during which the impressionable youth had been made not so much to believe as to feel that he was God's lieutenant, the earthly counterpart of his divine Master. From that time forward his Majesty has been filled with a spirit of self-exaltation which has gone on gaining strength, in accordance with the psychological law that pride usurps as much space as servility is ready to yield. Nikolai Alexandrovitch soon began to look upon himself as the centre of the world, the peacemaker of mankind, the torch-bearer of civilisation among the ‘yellow' and other · barbarous' races, and the dispenser of almost every blessing to his own happy people. Taking seriously this his imaginary mission, he has meddled continuously and directly in every affair of State, domestic and foreign, thwarting the course of justice, undermining legality, impoverishing his subjects, boasting his fervent love of peace, and yet plunging his tax-burdened people into the horrors of a sanguinary and needless war.
Before setting forth a few of the many facts known personally to most of those who live in the shadow of the
throne-facts which justify the foregoing estimate of his Majesty's mental state and character-it should be clearly understood that we are supporters of monarchy and opposed to nihilism, to socialism, and to every kind of revolutionary agitation. We do not wish even for a paper constitution, which, conditions being what they now are, would but serve as a trap for liberal-minded men, gathering them together for imprisonment or exile. Our sole desire, as it is that of most broad-minded men in Russia is to see the spirit of administration made to harmonise with the needs of the time and of the people, and the institution known as the Council of Ministers-created by a ukase of Alexander II which has remained a dead letter -summoned and set to work; for, the people having outgrown the ancient form of government, the fact should be openly admitted, and the practical conclusions drawn.
The only government suited to Russia is a strong monarchy; but between this and a wild oriental despotism there is a difference. Nicholas II, although not guided by his official advisers, has never been a free and independent ruler. During the first part of his reign he was kept in leading-strings by his mother, who, as soon as he ascended the throne, impressed upon him the necessity of imitating in all things his 'never-to-be-forgotten father.' That phrase was engraven upon the tablets of his memory, and is ever at the tip of his tongue and the point of his pen. For long it was the 'open sesame' to his heart and mind, because he strives conscientiously to be a perfected copy of Alexander III, and believes that he has already attained the end. In reality the two men are as far asunder as the positive and negative poles. The father, sincere, gloomy and narrow-minded, at least instinctively felt his limitations, and steadily kept within them. He strove with indomitable perseverance and occasional success to secure within the narrow circle of his acquaintances the best men, and, having once chosen an adviser, always asked his counsel, and usually followed it. Again, breach of faith was an abomination to him, and his word was regarded as better than any bond, in spite of his mistaken attitude towards the Finns, and his broken promise in regard to Batoum. But in all these characteristics the son is the very opposite to his father. Unsteady, half-hearted, self-complacent, and fickle, he
changes his favourites with his fitful moods, allowing a band of casual, obscure, and dangerous men to usurp the functions of his responsible ministers, whose recommendations are ignored, whose warnings are disregarded, and whose measures for the defence of the State are not only baffled, but resented as symptoms of disobedience.
wielded by his mother over Nicholas II soon came to an end, owing chiefly to differences between herself and her daughter-in-law on the subject of the Emperor's children. In the course of that rivalry the strenuous opposition of the young wife checked the influence of the mother over the son. One of the consequences of this domestic struggle for the mastery was that the Emperor freed himself partially, and for a time, from unofficial control; and his first spontaneous act, in the second year of his reign, was to appoint M. Goremykin, a man devoid of qualifications, to the post of Minister of the Interior (1896). This official remained in power for three years, and was then translated to the presidency of the Committee of Ministers—a sort of respectable refuge for ex-statesmen. His successor, M. Sipyaghin, chosen by the influence of the Dowager Empress, who pointed out that he had been favourably noticed by your neverto-be-forgotten father,' deserves a few words of mention. For, next to a man's acts examined in the light of his avowed motives, there can be no safer guide to his moral character and mental vigour than his choice of associates and fellow-workers; and some monarchs' claims to the gratitude of their subjects are founded, like those of old Kaiser Wilhelm, entirely upon the wise selections which they made, and the tenacity with which they clung to their ministers through thick and thin. Judged by this standard, Nicholas II will be ranked amongst the most unfortunate rulers of the Russian people.
His second choice, M. Sipyaghin, was nicknamed the Boyarin,' from his extreme love of ancient Russian customs and traditions, and the childish ways in which he manifested them. Intellectually Boeotian, but socially agreeable, he was a welcome guest in the houses of our nobility, where tea-table gossip is at a high premium. His political force lay in the thoroughness with which he threw himself into the part of courtier, and the skill with which he acted it. Ever blithe, his face wreathed