A. B. (Alfred Barton) Rendle.

The Century online

. (page 19 of 120)
Online LibraryA. B. (Alfred Barton) RendleThe Century → online text (page 19 of 120)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

peror, and frequently they are at odds
among themselves.

Ambassador McCormick and I called
on Minister Plehve. We found him most
agreeable. I studied him with some care.
A strong, forceful, but affable gendeman,
he impressed me as a man charged with
very heavy responsibilities, quite mindful
of the fact, and fearful lest any change in
existing conditions might be fraught with
danger. He said frankly that he was not
prepared to abolish the censorship. To
his mind it was a very imprudent thing to
do, but he said he would go as far as he
could toward meeting oiur wishes. As to a
press rate, unfortunately that was in the
hands of the minister of finance, and he
had no control of the subject ; and as to
expediting oiur despatches, in view of the
entirely independent character of each
minister it would be beyond his power to
stop a government message, or a message
from any member of the royal family, in
our favor. Beyond that he would give us
as great speed as was in his power. He
would be very glad, so far as his bureau
was concerned, to give such directions as
would enable our correspondent to secure
all proper information.

As I have said, no newspaper man at that
time could expect to secure admission to
any department of the government. In-
deed, a card would not be taken at the
door if it were known to be that of a news-
paper man. The consequence was that the
correspondent got his information at the
hotels, in the caf^s, or in the streets. The
papers published little, but the streets were
full of rumors of all kinds, and some of
them of the wildest character. After run-
ning down a rumor and satisfying himself
as to its verity, the correspondent would
write his despatch and drive two or three
miles to the office of the censor. The re-
strictions put upon foreign correspondents
had been so great that they had virtually
abandoned Russia; and when I arrived
there, with the exception of our men

Digitized by




who had preceded me, no foreign corre-
spondent was sending daily telegrams from
St. Petersburg. The thing was retroactive.
Because the government would not permit
despatches to go freely, no despatches
were going. The censor's duties, therefore,
had been so lightened that the govern-
ment had added to his work the censor-
ship of the drama, and the chances were
that when the correspondent called he
would have to run around to some theater
to find the censor ; and he might be sure
that between midnight and eight o'clock
in the morning he could never see him,
because a censor must sleep sometime,
and he would not allow anybody to dis-
turb him between those hours, which for
the American morning newspapers were
the vital hours.

It happened that M. Lamscott, the
censor of foreign despatches, was a very
reasonable man. But he was a subordinate
of a subordinate in the ministry of the
interior. He was a conscientious, well-
meaning person, disposed to do all that he
could for us, and he personally was op-
posed to the censorship ; but he could not
pass a telegram that would be the subject
of criticism by a minister or important sub-
ordinate in any department of the govern-
ment, or by any member of the royal family.
And since he was liable to be criticized for
anything he might do, his department be-
came a bureau of suppression rather than
of censorship. He could take no chances.
Certain rules had been adopted, and one
of them provided that no mention whatever
of a «iember of the royal family should
appear in a despatch after the censor had
passed upon it. If, by any chance, the cor-
respondent succeeded in securing infor-
mation and writing it in such fashion that
it would pass the censorship, he drove two
miles to the telegraph bureau and paid
cash at conmiercial rates for his despatch.
It then must wait till all government and
commercial business had been cleared
from the wires.

Under such a rule, it must be obvious
that the business of sending despatches
from Russia was impracticable. The mere
matter of paying cash, which at first sight
would not seem a great hardship, meant
that, in the event of some great happening
requiring a despatch of length, the corre-
spondent must carry with him several
hundred rubles. He could not trust a

Russian servant with this, but must go
in person. There are over two hundred
holidays in Russia every year, when the
banks are closed and cash is not obtainable.
The obstacle presented by that fact, there-
. fore, was a very serious one.

Such were the conditions. After my au-
dience with M. Plehve, the case seemed
nearly hopeless, and I was delaying my
departure from Russia only until I should
receive a definite statement that nothing
could be done, when the following Sun-
day morning the American ambassador
called me on the telephone and said that
I was to be commanded to an audience
with the Emperor. The ambassador
thought it best to keep in touch with him,
since I was liable to be summoned at any
moment. During the day I received the
command to an audience on Monday.

After seeing M. Plehve I had a talk with
the censor. M. Lamscott spoke English
perfecdy. He said that if his opinion were
asked respecting the censorship, he would
be very glad to say that he disapproved of
the whole thing ; but he was not at hberty
to volunteer his advice.

I also, by suggestion of M. Plehve, had
a conference with M. Doumovo, his chief
subordinate, the minister of telegraphs.
Doumovo is an old sailor, a hale, rough-
and-ready type of man. He had spent
some time in San Francisco while in com-
mand of a Russian vessel, spoke English
perfectly, and proved a most progressive
spirit. He was ready to do anything that
he could, and assured me that by adopt-
ing a certain route, via Libau, he would
be able to give our despatches the de-
sired precedence. He said he would also
issue orders to the trans-Siberian lines, so
that we could rest assured that our de-
spatches would not take more than an hour
from Port Arthur or Vladivostok to New

We were making progress. We had suc-
ceeded in securing rapidity of transmission,
a satisfactory press rate, and an arrange-
ment to make a charge account, so that
it would not be necessary to pay cash.
Meanwhile successful efforts had been
making for the appointment of an official
in each ministerial department who would
always receive our correspondent and aid
him in his search for information if it
fell within the jurisdiction of his depart-
ment. General Kouropatkin, who at that

Digitized by




time was minister of war, Admiral Avelan,
head of the navy department, and M.
Pleske, the minister of finance, each ap-
pointed such a man. Finally I was com-
manded to the audience with the Emperor.

A private audience with the Emperor of
Russia in the Winter Palace is an honor
which must impress one. I was notified
upon the formal card of command what
costume I was expected to wear— Ameri-
can evening dress, which, in the court
language of Europe, is known as " gala "
garb. At half-past three on the afternoon
of February 1, 1 presented myself. A ser-
vant removed the ever-present overshoes
and overcoat, and a curious functionary
in red court livery, with long white stock-
ings and a red tam-o*-shanter cap from
which streamed a large white plume, indi-
cated by pantomime that I was to follow
him. We ascended a grand staircase and
began an interminable march through a
labyrinth of wide halls and corridors. A
host of attendants in gaudy apparel, scat-
tered along the way, rose as we approached
and deferentially saluted. In one wide
hall sat a company of guards, who clapped
silver helmets on their heads, rose, and
presented arms as we passed.

I was shown into an anteroom, where
the Grand Duke Andr6 awaited me. He
introduced himself and chatted most agree-
ably about American affairs, until a door
opened and I was ushered into the pres-
ence of his Imperial Majesty. The room
was evidently a library. It contained well-
filled book-shelves, a large work-table, and
an American roller-top desk. Without
ceremony and in the simplest fashion, the
Emperor fell to a consideration of the
subject of my visit. He was dressed in
the fatigue-uniform of the Russian navy—
braided white jacket and blue trousers.
The interview lasted about an hour.

I represented to his Majesty the existing
conditions, and told him of the difficulties
which we encountered, and the desire on
the part of his ambassador at Washington
that Americans should see Russia with their
own eyes, and that news should not take on
an English color by reason of our receiving
it from London. I said that we felt a large
sense of responsibility. Every despatch of
the Associated Press was read by one half
the population of the United States. I
added that Russia and the United States
were either to grow closer and closer or

they were to grow apart, and we were anx-
ious to do whatever we properly might to
cement the cordial relations that had ex-
isted for a hundred years.

His Majesty replied : " I, too, feel my re-
sponsibility. Russia and the United States
are young, developing coimtries, and there
is not a point at which they should be at
issue. I am most anxious that the cordial
relations shall not only continue, but grow."

When assured, in response to an inquiry,
that the Emperor desired me to speak
frankly, I said : " We come here as friends,
and it is my desire that our representatives
here shall treat Russia as a friend ; but it is
the very essence of the proposed plan that
we be free to tell the truth. We cannot be
the mouthpiece of Russia, we cannot plead
her cause, except in so far as telling the
truth in a friendly spirit will do it"

"That is all we desire," his Majesty re-
plied, "and all we could ask of you." He
requested me to recount the specific things
I had in mind.

I told the Emperor that the question of
rate and speed of transmission had fortu-
nately been settled by his ministers, and
that the two questions I desired to present
to him were those of an open door in all
the departments, that we might secure the
news, and the removal of the censorship.
" It seems to me, your Majesty," I said,
" that the censorship is not only valueless
from your own point of view, but works a
positive harm. A wall has been built up
around the country, and the fact that no
correspondent for a foreign paper can live
and work here has resulted in a traffic in
false Russian news that is most hurtful.

"To-day there are newspaper men in
Vienna, Berlin, and London who make a
living by peddling out the news of Russia,
and it is usually false. If we were free to
tell the truth in Russia, as we are in other
countries, no self-respecting newspaper in
the world would print a despatch from
Vienna respecting the internal affairs of
Russia, because the editor would know
that, if the thing were true, it would come
from Russia direct. All you do now is
to drive a correspondent to send his de-
spatches across the German border. I am
able to write anything I choose in Rus*
sia, and send it by messenger to Wirballen,
across the German border, and it will go
from there without change. You are pow-
erless to prevent my sending these de-

Digitized by




spatches, and all you do is to anger the
correspondent and make him an enemy,
and delay his despatches, robbing the
Russian telegraph lines of a revenue they
should receive. So it occurs to me that
the censorship is inefficient; that it is a
censorship which does not censor, but

I went over the conmion experiences
of all newspaper men who had been in
Russia, and the Emperor agreed that the
existing plan was not only valueless, but
hurtful. He said that if I could stay in St.
Petersburg a week he would undertake to
do all that I desired. I asked if it would
be of service to make a memorandum of
the things I had said to him. He replied
that he would be very glad to receive
such a memorandum, as it would help
him to speak intelligently with his minis-
ters. We then talked about the negotia-
tions with Japan and of the internal affairs
of Russia. He said over and over again
that there must be no war, that he did not
believe there would be one, and that he
was going as far as self-res|)ect would per-
mit him in the way of meeting the Japa-
nese in the matter of their differences.

I was then given my leave by his Maj-
esty, who coiuteously suggested that he
should see me at the court ball which
was to take place that evening. Three or
four hours later I attended the ball, and
he came to me and reopened the conver-
sation in the presence of the American
ambassador, and was good enough to say
to Mr. McCormick that he had had a very
interesting afternoon.

During the conversation with the Em-
peror, to illustrate the existing difficulties,
I remarked that on the preceding Sunday
we had received a cable message from oiir
New York office to the effect that a very
sensational despatch had been printed
throughout the United States, purporting
to come from Moscow, and alleging that,
during the progress of certain army ma-
noeuvers under the direction of the Grand
Duke Sergius (assassinated February 17,
1905), a large body of troops had been or-
dered to cross a bridge over the Moscow
River, and, by a blunder, another order had
been given at the same time to blow up
the bridge, and thus a thousand soldiers
had been killed. This despatch came to us
on Sunday evening, with the request that
we find out whether it was true. There was

no way to ascertain. Nobody could get
any information from the war department ;
nobody would be admitted to ask such a
question; and I told the Emperor the
chances were that, in the ordinary course
of things, this would happen : three or four
weeks later the false despatch would be
sent back by post from the Russian lega-
tion at Washington, and there would be a
request made on the part of the Russian
government that it be denied, because there
was not a word of truth in it ; but the denial
would go out a month or six weeks after the
statement, and no newspaper would print
it, because interest in the story had died
out. Thus nobody would see the denial.

It happened in this case that we knew
a man in St. Petersburg who had been in
Moscow on the day mentioned, and when
he saw the telegram he said at once : " I
know all about that story. Two years ago
the Grand Duke Sergius, at some manoeu-
vers, did order some troops to cross a
bridge, and a section of it was blown
up and one man was killed." I said to his
Majesty: "In this instance we were able
to correct the falsehood; but it is most
important that a correction of this sort
should follow the falsehood at the earliest
moment, while the thing is still warm in
the public mind."

He said he recognized the wisdom of
that, and he also recognized that obviously,
if our service was to be of any value to us
whatever, the departments must be open
to us and make answer to questions, giving
the facts.

Later in the evening, Count Lamsdorff
came up and expressed his gratification
at the interview I had had with the Em-
peror. He said that the Emperor had told
him of it, and Count Lamsdorff added : " I
think it of great value to Russia, and I
want to thank you for having told the truth
to his Majesty, which he hears all too

While chatting with the Emperor at the
ball I asked how I should transmit the
memorandum referred to in the afternoon's
interview, and he told me to send it through
Baron de Fr^edericksz, minister of the

The next day I prepared the memo-
randum for transmission, and then it oc-
curred to me that it would be befitting the
dignity of the imperial office if it were
neatly printed, and I set out to find a

Digitized by




printer who could do it in English. I
drove to the Credit Lyonnais, and called
on the manager, whom I knew, and asked
him if there was a printing-office in St.
Petersburg where English could be printed.
He gave me a card to the manager of a
very large establishment located in the
outskirts of the city.

The manager was a kindly old German
who spoke French. I told him what was
wanted, and he said he would be delighted
to do anything for an American : he had
a son, a railway engineer, at Muskegon,
Michigan. He said he had no composi-
tors who understood English, but he had
the Latin type, and, as the copy was type-
written, his printers could pick it out letter
by letter and set it up, and then I could
revise the proof and put it in shape. He
asked me when it was needed. I replied
that I must have it by noon of the follow-
ing day. He said that would involve night
work, but he would be very glad indeed
to keep on a couple of printers to set it

As I was about to leave, he glanced at
the manuscript and said, with a startled
look, " This has not been censored."

" No,*' I replied ; " it has not been cen-

*' Then," he said, " it must be censored ;
there is a fine of five hundred rubles and
three months in jail for setting one word
that does not bear the censor's stamp. I
should not dare, as much as I should like
to accommodate you, to put myself in
jeopardy. But," he added, " you will have
no trouble with it. It is now six o'clock.
I will have the engineer stay and keep the
lights burning, and have the two printers
go out to dinner, and you can go and have
it censored, in the meantime, very much
more quickly than I can. Return here by
eight o'clock, and we can work on it all
night, if necessary."

I drove at once to M. Lamscott, he
being the censor who had passed upon
our despatches, and presented the case to
him. His countenance fell at once.

" I hope you will believe that, if it were
in my power to help you, I would do so,"
he said ; " but, unfortunately, my function
is to censor foreign despatches only, and
I have no power to censor job-work. That
falls within an entirely different depart-
ment, and my stamp would not be of any
use to you whatever. But I may say to

you, as a friend, that it is hopeless. If
Minister Plehve, in whose department this
falls, sought to have a document like this
censored, it would take him a week to have
it go through the red tape which would
be necessary. And the very thing which
makes you think that this should be easy
to censor makes it the most difficult thing
in the world, because no censor would dare
to affix his stamp to a paper which is in
the nature of a petition to the sovereign
imtil it had passed step by step through
all the gradations of office up to his Maj-
esty himself, and he had signified a will-
ingness to receive it. Then it would have
to come back through all the gradations
to the censor again ; and it would be two
or three weeks before you would get the
document in shape to print it."

I laughed, and said a petition to remove
the censorship required so much censoring
that it was actually amusing.

He replied: "The only thing you can
do is to write it."

So I took it to the American embassy,
had it engrossed, and transmitted it to the
Emperor, and then waited for some word
from him.

I received an invitation to the second
ball, which the Emperor had assured me
would be a much more agreeable fimction
than the first, because, instead of thirty-
three hundred people, there would be only
six hundred present. This second ball was
to occur a week later.

On Wednesday I transmitted the memo-
randum to his Majesty. On Thiu*sday even-
ing, at a reception, I encountered Minister
Plehve. He said he knew of my audience
with the Emperor and had seen the memo-
randum which I had left with him; and
while he was desirous of doing everything
in his power, I must remember that he was
responsible for the internal order of Russia,
and he could not bring himself to believe
that a step of this kind was wise. It was
almost revolutionary in its character, and
he wanted to know whether there could
not be something in the natiure of a com-
promise effected. " All your other requests
have been provided for," he said ; " the
only question that remains is the censor-
ship, and I want to know if you would not
be content with an arrangement by which
I should appoint a bureau of censors at
the central telegraph office and keep them
on duty night and day, with instructions

Digitized by




to give you the largest possible latitude. I
can assure you there would be virtually
nothing but a censorship in form so far as
you are concerned."

I replied that I was sorry that I could
not see my way clear to do the thing he
asked. " I am not here, your Excellency,"
I added, " to advise you as to your duties.
That is a question which you must deter-
mine for yourself. Neither am I here to
say that I think the suggestion you make
an unwise one. I do not know. It may
not be wise for you to remove the cen-
sorship. That is a question which I am
not called on to discuss. I am here at the
instance of the Russian government, be-
cause it desired me to come. It desired us
to look at Russia through our own eyes.
Obviously we cannot do that unless we
are absolutely free. Anything less than
freedom in the matter would mean that
we should be looking at Russia, not
through our eyes, but through your eyes.
So, without the slightest feeling in the mat-
ter, if you do not see your way clear, I
shall take myself out of Russia, and we shall
go on as we have done for a hundred years
—taking our Russian news from London."

"Oh, no," said he, in a startled tone;
" that must not be. I would not have you
understand me as saying that your wishes
will not be met. I believe his Majesty has
given you assurances on the point, and of
course it is in his hands, and he will do
whatever he thinks best about it."

The minister then suddenly saw, in an-
other part of the room, a lady to whom he
desired to speak, and we parted. Later in
the evening he drew close to my side and
asked in a whisper if I had heard the

"What news?" I asked. It was at a
moment when the whole world was wait-
ing breathless for Russia's last reply to

"The reply to Japan went forward to-
night," he replied; "and I thought you
might want to know it."

"Indeed," I said; "and when?"

" At seven o'clock."

He then quiedy drew away, and I sought
out our correspondent and commimicated
the fact to him. Going to the censor, he
had his despatch censored and forwarded
it. About an hour later, after twelve
o'clock, the French minister said to me:
" You know the news ? "

I regarded Minister Plehve's informa-
tion as confidential and asked: "What
news ? "

" I think you know very well, because
Plehve told you," he answered.

" Yes," I said ; " the answer has gone to

"No, not to Japan," he replied; "but
to Alexieff, and it will not reach Baron de
Rosen, the Russian minister at Tokio, until
Saturday or Monday."

I was naturally startled, because the
despatch which had been sent to New
York had reported that the answer had
gone to Japan. Twelve o'clock had come
and gone, there was no opportunity to
secure a censored correction, and an in-
acciu-ate despatch was certain to be printed
in all the American papers the following
morning, and I was apparently powerless
to prevent it.

Mr. Kurino, the Japanese minister, was
anxious to know the news. I did not feel
at liberty to communicate it to him, and
he turned away, saying : " Well, I think this
is a very unpleasant place for me, and I
shall take my departure." So he and his
wife left me to make their adieus to the

I also took my leave and drove at once
to the telegraph office. Now, they did not
censor private messages. I entered the
telegraph bureau and wrote this despatch :

Walter Neef^ 40 Evelyn Gardens, London:

Howard was slightly in error in his telegram
to-night. The document has been telegraphed
to the gentleman in charge in the East, and
will reach its destination Saturday or Monday.

I signed my name and handedMn the
message, which was delivered prompdy
in London to Mr. Neef, the chief of our
London office, who at once sent a cor-
rection to the United States, and the de-
spatch appeared in proper form in the
American papers.

Plehve was a strong, forceful, and,
I believe, sincere man— one who felt
that all the repressive measiu-es he had
adopted were necessary. He was not a
reactionary in the fullest sense. He was

Online LibraryA. B. (Alfred Barton) RendleThe Century → online text (page 19 of 120)