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doctrines very different from those we cherish, I am bound
to say that most of them did so in a way which disarmed
criticism. At the same time I must confess a conviction
which has more and more grown upon me, that the popular
view regarding the power, vigor, and foresight of Rus-
sian statesmen is ill-founded. And it must be added that
Russian officials and their families are very susceptible
to social influences: a foreign representative who enter-
tains them frequently and well can secure far more for his
country than one who trusts to argument alone. In no
part of the world will a diplomatist more surely realize
the truth embedded in Oxenstiern 's famous utterance, ' ' Go
forth, my son, and see with how little wisdom the world
is governed." When one sees what really strong men
might do in Russia, what vast possibilities there are which


year after year are utterly neglected, one cannot but think
that the popular impression regarding the superiority
of Russian statesmen is badly based. As a matter of fact,
there has not been a statesman of the first class, of Rus-
sian birth, since Catherine the Great, and none of the sec-
ond class unless Nesselrode and the Emperor Nicholas are
to be excepted. To consider Prince Gortchakoff a great
chancellor on account of his elaborate despatches is ab-
surd. The noted epigram regarding him is doubtless just:
' ' C 'est un Narcisse qui se mire dans son encrier. ' '

To call him a great statesman in the time of Cavour,
Bismarck, Lincoln, and Seward is preposterous. What-
ever growth in civilization Russia has made in the last
forty years has been mainly in spite of the men who have
posed as her statesmen; the atmosphere of Russian au-
tocracy is fatal to greatness in any form.

The emancipation of the serfs was due to a policy advo-
cated by the first Nicholas and carried out under Alexan-
der II; but it was made possible mainly by Miloutine,
Samarine, Tcherkassky, and other subordinates, who
never were allowed to approach the first rank as state ser-
vants. This is my own judgment, founded on observation
and reading during half a century, and it is the quiet judg-
ment of many who have had occasion to observe Russia
longer and more carefully.

Next, as to the Foreign Office. Nearly a hundred years
ago Napoleon compared Alexander I and those about him
to ' * Greeks of the Lower Empire. ' ' That saying was re-
pelled as a slander; but, ever since it was uttered, the
Russian Foreign Office seems to have been laboring to de-
serve it. There are chancelleries in the world which, when
they give promises, are believed and trusted. Who, in
the light of the last fifty years, would claim that the Rus-
sian Foreign Office is among these? Its main reputation
is for astuteness finally brought to naught; it has con-
stantly been ' ' too clever by half. ' '

Take the loudly trumpeted peace proposals to the world
made by Nicholas II. When the nations got together at


The Hague to carry out the Czar's supposed purpose, it
was found that all was haphazard ; that no adequate stud-
ies had been made, no project prepared ; in fact, that the
Emperor's government had virtually done nothing show-*
ing any real intention to set a proper example. Nothing
but the high character and abilities of M. de Martens and
one or two of his associates saved the prestige of the Rus-
sian Foreign Office at that time. Had there been a man
of real power in the chancellorship or in the ministry of
foreign affairs, he would certainly have advised the Em-
peror to dismiss to useful employments, say, two hundred
to two hundred and fifty thousand troops, which he could
have done without the slightest danger thus showing that
he was in earnest, crippling the war clique, and making
the beginning of a great reform which all Europe would
certainly have been glad to follow. But there was neither
the wisdom nor the strength required to advise and carry
through such a measure. Deference to the "military
party ' ' and petty fear of a loss of military prestige were

Take the army and the navy departments. In these, if
anywhere, Russia has been thought strong. The main
occupation of leading Russians for a hundred years has
been, not the steady uplifting of the people in intellect
and morals, not the vigorous development of natural
resources, but preparations for war on land and sea.
This has been virtually the one business of the main men
of light and leading from the emperors and grand dukes
down. Drill and parade have been apparently every-
thing: the strengthening of the empire by the education
of the people, and the building of industrial prosperity as
a basis for a great army and navy, seem to have been vir-
tually nothing. The results are now before the world for
the third time since 1815.

An objector may remind me of the emancipation of the
serfs. I do not deny the greatness and nobleness of Alex-
ander II and the services of the men he then called to his
aid ; but I lived in Russia both before and since that re-


form, and feel obliged to testify that, thus far, its main
purpose has been so thwarted by reactionaries that there
is, as yet, little, if any, practical difference between the
condition of the Russian peasant before and since obtain-
ing his freedom.

Take the dealings with Finland. The whole thing is
monstrous. It is both comedy and tragedy. Finland is
by far the best-developed part of the empire; it stands
on a higher plane than do the other provinces as regards
every element of civilization ; it has steadily been the most
loyal of all the realms of the Czar. Nihilism and an-
archism have never gained the slightest foothold; yet
to-day there is nobody in the whole empire strong enough
to prevent sundry bigots military and ecclesiastical-
leading the Emperor to violate his coronation oath ; to
make the simple presentation of a petition to him treason-
able ; to trample Finland under his feet ; to wrong griev-
ously and insult grossly its whole people; to banish and
confiscate the property of its best men ; to muzzle its press ;
to gag its legislators ; and thus to lower the whole country
to the level of the remainder of Russia.

During my stay in Russia at the time of the Crimean
War, I had been interested in the Finnish peasants whom
I saw serving on the gunboats. There was a sturdiness,
heartiness, and loyalty about them which could not fail
to elicit good- will ; but during this second stay in Russia
my sympathies with them were more especially enlisted.
During the hot weather of the first summer my family
were at the Finnish capital, Helsingfors, at the point
where the Gulf of Finland opens into the Baltic. The
whole people deeply interested me. Here was one of the
most important universities of Europe, a noble public li-
brary, beautiful buildings, and throughout the whole town
an atmosphere of cleanliness and civilization far superior
to that which one finds in any Russian city. Having been
added to Russia by Alexander I under his most solemn
pledges that it should retain its own constitutional gov-
ernment, it had done so up to the time of my stay ; and the


results were evident throughout the entire grand duchy.
While in Russia there had been from time immemorial
a debased currency, the currency of Finland was as good
as gold ; while in Russia all public matters bore the marks
of arbitrary repression, in Finland one could see the re-
sults of enlightened discussion ; while in Russia the peas-
ant is but little, if any, above Asiatic barbarism, the
Finnish peasant simple, genuine is clearly far better
developed both morally and religiously. It is a grief to
me in these latter days to see that the measures which
were then feared have since been taken. There seems a de-
termination to grind down Finland to a level with Russia
in general. We heard, not long since, much sympathy ex-
pressed for the Boers in South Africa in their struggle
against England; but infinitely more pathetic is the case
of Finland. The little grand duchy has done what it could
to save itself, but it recognizes the fact that its two millions
of people are utterly powerless against the brute force of
the one hundred and twenty millions of the Russian Em-
pire. The struggle in South Africa meant, after all, that if
worst came to worst, the Boers would, within a generation
or two, enjoy a higher type of constitutional liberty than
they ever could have developed under any republic they
could have established ; but Finland is now forced to give
up her constitutional government and to come under the
rule of brutal Russian satraps. These have already begun
their work. All is to be " Russified ' ' : the constitutional
bodies are to be virtually abolished ; the university is to be
brought down to the level of Dorpat once so noted
as a German university, now so worthless as a Russian
university; for the simple Protestantism of the people is
to be substituted the fetishism of the Russo-Greek Church.
It is the saddest spectacle of our time. Previous emper-
ors, however much they wished to do so, did not dare
break their oaths to Finland; but the present weakling
sovereign, in his indifference, carelessness, and absolute
unfitness to rule, has allowed the dominant reactionary
clique about him to accomplish its own good pleasure. I
put on record here the prophecy that his dynasty, if not


himself, will be punished for it. All history shows that
no such crime has gone unpunished. It is a far greater
crime than the partition of Poland; for Poland had
brought her fate on herself, while Finland has been the
most loyal part of the empire. Not even Moscow herself
has been more thoroughly devoted to Russia and the
reigning dynasty. The young monarch whose weakness
has led to this fearful result will bring retribution upon
himself and those who follow him. The Romanoffs will
yet find that " there is a Power in the universe, not our-
selves, which makes for righteousness." The house of
Hapsburg and its satellites found this in the humiliating
end of their reign in Italy ; the house of Valois found it,
after the massacre of St. Bartholomew, in their own de-
struction; the Bourbons found it, after the driving out
of the Huguenots and the useless wars of Louis XIV
and XV, in the French Revolution which ended their
dynasty. Both the Napoleons met their punishment after
violating the rights of human nature. The people of the
United States, after the Fugitive Slave Law, found their
punishment in the Civil War, which cost nearly a million
of lives and, when all is reckoned, ten thousand millions
of treasure.

When I talked with this youth before he came to the
throne, and saw how little he knew of his own empire,
how absolutely unaware he was that the famine was
continuing for a second year in various important dis-
tricts, there resounded in my ears, as so often at other
times, the famous words of Oxenstiern to his son, "Go
forth, my son, and see with how little wisdom the world is
governed. ' '

Pity to say it, the European sovereign to whom Nicholas
II can be most fully compared is Charles IX of France,
under the influence of his family and men and women
courtiers and priests, authorizing the massacre of St.
Bartholomew. The punishment to be meted out to him
and his house is sure. 1

1 The above was written before the Russian war with Japan and the assas-
sinations of Bobrikoff, Plehve, and others were dreamed of My prophecy
seems likely to be realized far earlier than I had thought possible.


As I revise these lines, we see another exhibition of the
same weakness and folly. The question between Russia
and Japan could have been easily and satisfactorily set-
tled in a morning talk by any two business men of average
ability ; but the dominant clique has forced on one of the
most terrible wars in history, which bids fair to result in
the greatest humiliation Russia has ever known.

The same thing may be said regarding Russia 's dealings
with the Baltic provinces. The "Russification" which
has been going on there for some years is equally absurd,
equally wicked, and sure to be equally disastrous.

The first Russian statesman with whom I had to do was
the minister of foreign affairs, M. de Giers; but he was
dying. I saw him twice in retirement at Tzarskoye Selo,
and came to respect him much. He spoke at length re-
garding the entente between Russia and France, and in-
sisted that it was not in the interest of war but of peace.
"Tell your government," he said, "that the closer the
lines are drawn which bind Russia and France, the more
strongly will Russian influence be used to hold back the
French from war. "

At another time he discoursed on the folly of war, and
especially regarding the recent conflict between Russia
and Turkey. He spoke of its wretched results, of the in-
gratitude which Russia had experienced from the peoples
she had saved from the Turks, and finally, with extreme
bitterness, of the vast sums of money wasted in it which
could have been used in raising the condition of the Rus-
sian peasantry. He spoke with the conviction of a dying
man, and I felt that he was sincere. At the same time I
felt it a pity that under the Russian system there is no
chance for such a man really to enforce his ideas. For one
day he may be in the ascendancy with the autocrat; and
the next, through the influence of grand dukes, women,
priests, or courtiers, the very opposite ideas may become

The men with whom I had more directly to do at the
Foreign Office were the acting minister, Shishkin, who had


formerly been at Washington, and the head of the Asiatic
department, Count Kapnist. They were agreeable in man-
ner ; but it soon became clear that, regarding the question
of the Behring seal-fisheries, they were pursuing a policy
of their own, totally distinct from the interests of the em-
pire. Peter the Great would have beheaded both of them.

The strongest man among the Czar's immediate advis-
ers was understood to be the finance minister, De Witte.
There always seemed in him a certain sullen force. The
story usually told of his rise in the world is curious. It
is, in effect, that when the Emperor Alexander II and his
family were wrecked in their special train at Borki, many
of their attendants were killed ; and the world generally,
including the immediate survivors of the catastrophe, be-
lieved for some time that it was the result of a nihilist
plot. There was, therefore, a general sweeping into
prison of subordinate railway officials; and among these
was De Witte, then in charge of a railway station. During
the examinations which ensued he showed himself so clear-
headed and straightforward that he attracted attention,
was promoted, put into the finance ministry, and finally
advanced to the first place in it. His dealings with Rus-
sian finances have since shown great capacity: he has
brought the empire out of the slough of depreciated cur-
rency and placed it firmly on a gold basis. I came espe-
cially to know him when he offered, through me, to the
United States a loan of gold to enable us to tide over our
difficulties with the currency question. He informed me
that Russia had in her treasury many millions of rubles
in American gold eagles, and that the Russian gold reserve
then in the treasury was about six hundred millions of

The only result was that I was instructed to convey the
thanks of the President to him, there being no law en-
abling us to take advantage of his offer. What he wished
to do was to make a call loan, whereas our Washington
Government could obtain gold only by issuing bonds.

I also met him in a very interesting way when I pre-

II. 3


sented to him Eabbi Krauskopf of Philadelphia, who dis-
cussed the question of allowing sundry Israelites who
were crowded into the western districts of the empire to
be transferred to some of the less congested districts, on
condition that funds for that purpose be furnished from
their coreligionists in America. De Witte's discussion of
the whole subject was liberal and statesmanlike. Unfortu-
nately, there was, as I believe, a fundamental error in his
general theory, which is the old Russian idea at the bottom
of the autocracy namely, that the State should own
everything. More and more he went on extending gov-
ernment ownership to the railways, until the whole direc-
tion and management of them virtually centered in his

On this point he differed widely from his predecessor in
the finance ministry, Wischniegradsky. I had met the lat-
ter years before, at the Paris Exposition, when he was at
the head of the great technical school in Moscow, and
found him instructive and interesting. Now I met him
after his retirement from the finance ministry. Calling
on him one day, I said: "You will probably build your
trans-Siberian railway at a much less cost than we were
able to build our first trans-continental railway ; you will
do it directly, by government funds, and so will probably
not have to make so many rich men as we did. ' ' His an-
swer impressed me strongly. He said : * ' As to a govern-
ment building a railway more cheaply than private in-
dividuals, I decidedly doubt; but I would favor private
individuals building it, even if the cost were greater. I
like to see rich men made; they are what Russia most
needs at this moment. What can capitalists do with their
money! They can't eat it or drink it: they have to invest
it in other enterprises; and such enterprises, to be re-
munerative, must meet the needs of the people. Capital-
ists are far more likely to invest their money in useful
enterprises, and to manage these investments well, than
any finance minister can be, no matter how gifted. ' '

That he was right the history of Russia is showing more


and more every day. To return to M. de Witte, it seemed
strange to most onlookers that the present Emperor
threw him out of the finance ministry, in which he had
so greatly distinguished himself, and shelved him in one
of those bodies, such as the council of state or the senate,
which exist mainly as harbors or shelters for dismissed
functionaries. But really there was nothing singular
about it. As regards the main body at court, from the
grand dukes, the women, etc., down, he had committed the
sin of which Turgot and Necker were guilty when they
sought to save France but found that the women, princes,
and favorites of poor Louis XVI 's family were deter-
mined to dip their hands into the state treasury, and were
too strong to be controlled. Ruin followed the dismissal
of Turgot and Necker then, and seems to be following the
dismissal of De Witte now : though as I revise this chap-
ter word comes that the Emperor has recalled him.

No doubt Prince Khilkoff, who has come in as minister
of internal communications since my departure from Rus-
sia, is also a strong man ; but no functionary can take the
place of a great body of individuals who invest their
own money in public works throughout an entire nation.

There was also another statesman in a very different
field whom I found exceedingly interesting, a statesman
who had gained a power in the empire second to no other
save the Emperor himself, and had centered in himself
more hatred than any other Russian of recent times, the
former Emperor's tutor and virtual minister as regards
ecclesiastical affairs, Pobedonostzeff. His theories are
the most reactionary of all developed in modern times;
and his hand was then felt, and is still felt, in every part of
the empire, enforcing those theories. Whatever may be
thought of his wisdom, his patriotism is not to be doubted.
Though I differ from him almost totally, few men have so
greatly interested me, and one of the following chapters
will be devoted to him.

But there were some other so-called statesmen toward
whom I had a very different feeling. One of these was the


minister of the interior. Nothing could be more delusive
than his manner. He always seemed about to accede to the
ideas of his interlocutor, but he had one fundamental idea
of his own, and only one ; and that was, evidently, never
to do anything which he could possibly avoid. He always
seemed to me a sort of great jellyfish, looking as if he had
a mission to accomplish, but, on closer examination, prov-
ing to be without consistency, and slippery. His theory
apparently was, "No act, no responsibility" ; and through-
out the Russian Empire this principle of action, or, rather,
of inaction, appears to be very widely diffused.

I had one experience with this functionary, who, I am
happy to say, has since been relieved of his position and
shelved among the do-nothings of the Russian senate,
which showed me what he was. Two American ladies of
the best breeding and culture, and bearing the most satis-
factory letters of introduction, had been staying in St.
Petersburg, and had met, at my table and elsewhere, some
of the most interesting people in Russian society. From
St. Petersburg they had gone to Moscow; and, after a
pleasant stay there, had left for Vienna by way of War-
saw. Returning home late at night, about a week after-
ward, I found an agonizing telegram from them, stating
that they had been stopped at the Austrian frontier and
sent back fifty miles to a dirty little Russian village ; that
their baggage had all gone on to Vienna ; that, there being
no banker in the little hamlet where they were, their letter
of credit was good for nothing ; that all this was due to the
want of the most trivial of formalities in a passport ; that
they had obtained all the vises supposed to be needed at
St. Petersburg and at Moscow; and that, though the
American consul at Warsaw had declared these to be suffi-
cient to take them out of the empire, they had been stopped
by a petty Russian official because they had no vise from
the Warsaw police.

Early next morning I went to the minister of the in-
terior, presented the case to him, told him all about these
ladies, their high standing, the letters they had brought,


the people they had met, assured him that nothing could
be further from possibility than the slightest tendency on
their part toward any interference with the Russian Gov-
ernment, and asked him to send a telegram authorizing
their departure. He was most profuse in his declarations
of his willingness to help. Nothing in the world, appa-
rently, would give him more pleasure ; and, though there
was a kind of atmosphere enveloping his talk which I did
not quite like, I believed that the proper order would be
given. But precious time went on, and again came tele-
grams from the ladies that nothing was done. Again I
went to the minister to urge the matter upon his attention ;
again he assumed the same jellyfish condition, pleasing but
evasive. Then I realized the situation ; went at once to the
prefect of St. Petersburg, General von Wahl, although it
was not strictly within his domain ; and he, a man of char-
acter and vigor, took the necessary measures and the la-
dies were released.

Like so many other persons whom I have known who
came into Russia and were delighted with it during their
whole stay, these ladies returned to America most bitter
haters of the empire and of everything within it.

As to Von Wahl, who seemed to me one of the very best
Russian officials I met, he has since met reward for his
qualities: from the Czar a transfer to a provincial gov-
ernorship, and from the anarchists a bullet which, though
intended to kill him, only wounded him.

Many were the sufferers from this feature in Russian
administration this shirking of labor and responsibility.
Among these was a gentleman belonging to one of the
most honored Russian families, who was greatly de-
voted to fruit-culture, and sought to bring the products of
his large estates in the south of Russia into Moscow
and St. Petersburg. He told me that he had tried again
and again, but the officials shrugged their shoulders and
would not take the trouble; that finally he had induced
them to give him a freight-car and to bring a load of
fruit to St. Petersburg as soon as possible; but, though


the journey ought to have taken only three or four days,
it actually took several weeks; and, of course, all the

Online LibraryAndrew Dickson WhiteAutobiography of Andrew Dickson White (Volume 2) → online text (page 5 of 54)