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IPER1






VVJ










THE IMPERIAL ORGY



BY EDGAR SALTUS

HISTORIA AMORIS

IMPERIAL PURPLE

THE POMPS OF SATAN

MARY MAGDALEN

THE LORDS OF THE GHOSTLAND

THE PALISER CASE




PETER AT THE MARRIAGE I




ST OF If TS FAVORITE I)W\RF



The Imperial Orgy



An Account of the Tsars from the
First to the Last ^* ^ J> j*

EDGAR SALTUS




New York j* jt jt J>
Boni & L i v e r i g h t
(Incorporated) & jt 1920



Copyright, 1920, by
EDGAR SALTUS



ura.

DK

5 m



To
O. S. C.



THE IMPERIAL ORGY

I Ivan the Terrible I

II Dmitri the Sorcerer 25

7/7 Peter the Great 50

IV Imperial Sables 81

V The Northern Messalina 104

VI Venus Victrix 127

VII Paul iso

VIII The Last Despot 160

IX King Terror 103

X The Whirlwind 216



Vll



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

Peter at the Marriage Feast of His Favorite Dwarf

Frontispiece

Facing
Page

Tsars and Tsaritsas from Ivan to Catherine II i



Ivan the Terrible




12


Boris Godunov




28


Dmitri




44


Peter the Great




60


Peter II




go


Elizabeth




106


Catherine II




130


Paul I




J S4


Alexander I




I/O


Alexander III





210


Alix of 11 esse, Wij


V of Nil holds thi La.'t


226



IX



THE IMPERIAL ORGY



"Hell bows down before the tsar."

Swinburne




TSARS W'l) TSARITSAS

I l"/-.! [VAN TO CATHERINE II



THE IMPERIAL ORGY



IVAN THE TERRIBLE

TIMUR and Attila dwarf Ivan but not
very much. In the fury with which At-
tila pounced on civilisation there is the
impersonality of a cyclone. Timur was a homi-
cidal maniac with unlimited power and a limit-
less area in which to be homicidal. Where he
passed he left pyramids of human heads and
towers made of prisoners mixed with mortar.
Where Attila passed he left nothing.

Ivan turned cities into shambles and provinces
into cemeteries. A cholera, corpses mounted
about him. But death was the least of his gifts.
He discovered Siberia. That was for later
comers. For his immediate subjects he discov-
ered something acuter. To them he was not
cholera, he was providence.



2 The Imperial Orgy

From some he had the epidermis removed,
after which they were flayed. Others he carved,
a leg or an arm at a time, which he fed to hounds
but seeing to it that the amputated were sus-
tained with drink, that their vital organs were
protected, seeing to it that they were tended,
nursed, upheld, enabled as long as possible to
look on at the feast of which their limbs were
the courses. Others, tied in sacks, were
trampled by maddened horses. But some
danced to his piping. Put in cages they were
burned alive.

The red quadrilles were invented not by him
but by the dancing masters whom history called
conquerors and who developed into kings.
These beings were divine. They had the right
to slay and crucify and they did crucify and slay
those that wished to be free and those also that
had disrespectful thoughts. To wish to be free
was sacrilege. To be disrespectful was contrary
to every law. In either case the penalty was
death preceded by torture and what could be
more reasonable? All men are mortal. To
them all a divine providence dispensed the
greatest possible variety of ills. Kings who
were themselves divine imitated it all they could.
It was in this manner that Ivan became a provi-
dence to his people.



Ivan the Terrible 3

Born in the early part of the sixteenth cen-
tury and crowned when a lad, for nearly fifty
years his sceptre was an axe. He killed, as
haematomaniacs do kill, for the joy of it. Be-
fore killing he tortured. That also was a joy.
It was not only a joy, it was his right. He pos-
sessed, in fee-simple, a sovereign monoply of
evil.

To-day it seems incredible. There is some-
thing that exceeds it. To his quivering people
he was a god, a god to be feared as divinity
should be, but also to be adored. In life a
mythological monster and in death a satyr, he
was beloved. That is the incredible. It is also
irrefutable. Karamsin, the historian of the
early tsars, states it with pride. His statement
annalists of the day confirm. When Ivan died,
the nation in its entirety, not excepting the chil-
dren of his victims, put on sackcloth and ashes.
The horrors of his reign had fascinated Mus-
covy to the point of insanity.

In the history of Western Europe there is no
parallel for his atrocities, nor is there any for
the servility with which they were endured. In
considering that abjection one cannot but con-
jecture that his subjects were insane. Perhaps
they were. The acceptance of atrociousness is
as insane as its perpetration. None the less and



4 The Imperial Orgy

assuming the insanity of all concerned, Ivan had
a purpose. That purpose he achieved. He put
a seal on Russia, the seal imperial which was
blood-red.

Russia then was Cimmerian. Ages earlier,
to poets who had not been there, it was a land
where gnomes fought for gold with griffons in
the dark. The poetry tempted adventure.
Triremes entered the Euxine, beyond whose
hither coast the gold was rumoured to be. It
must have gone, the goblins with it. Instead
were whelps of demons that clothed themselves
in human skins and who, through gaps of time,
vanished utterly. It was forgotten that they
had been. They were but brooding. In sep-
tentrional fens they lurked, separating and segre-
gating into clans affiliated and yet distinct.

Ultimately, from the White Sea to the Black,
a horde descended. They called themselves
Slav, a word that means glory. The territory
that they occupied was outside of Europe, out-
side of the world. Unknown, it had no name.
It was not until the ninth century that it got one.
The Slavs, meanwhile, might have been content
to continue to be, had not the scenario of events
prevented. Unknown, they were unmolested,
consequently they fought among themselves,
fought in fights internecine and therefore the



Ivan the Terrible 5

fiercer, from which the victors emerged masters
and the vanquished slaves. Masters are not
necessarily amiable. These also fought and for
the very human reason that each wanted to lead.

Equality does not tolerate grades. Preced-
ence being impossible, from the roof of the
world they haled a Norse pirate and gave him
the pas.

The pirate was Rurik. He was chief of a
crew of rowers, that is to say, of russi. Russia
came then into being and with her a throne that
was to become the tallest bit of furniture on
earth, a throne so tall that when the last incum-
bent was tossed from it into Siberia, the trajec-
tory was wider and higher than any that history
has beheld. Vespasian, when his hour had
come, gestured finely: — "This is death and an
emperor should meet it standing." At death's
approach, it is said that the last of the Russian
emperors fainted.

Rurik was not emperor. He was the turnkey
of the enigmatic door that opened on a history
that was to be an uninterrupted crime and
which, already a sea of blood, mirrored then a
record of murders, sacks and massacres; a chron-
icle of nightmares tangled, obscure but always
atrocious, and yet merely preludes, the overture
to an empire's gestation or, more exactly, the



6 The Imperial Orgy

preliminaries to the construction of the cage in
which, bent double, the empire was to live.

From the sea of blood, pictures mount; gleams
radiated from Byzantium, ascending cupolas,
glittering domes, the torches of civilisation, art
and beauty — submerged suddenly by an ava-
lanche of Asiatics shoved over the Urals by the
Khan of khans; the conquest of Russia by the
Mongols; the lording of her by a despot whom
it took years to reach.

More dimly are glimpses of peasants, heavy-
witted as cattle, feeding like cattle on straw.
Behind them rise the outlines of cities: of Nov-
gorod that styled herself My Lord Novgorod,
and of Moscow that from Mongol made Russia
Muscovite and where the Rurikovitch lifted
themselves into tsars. Additionally, there is a
Rembrandt touch that was due to the khans.
Sprung from hell they had sunk back there.
For souvenir they left night.

Russia then was pitch-black, and not black
merely but dumb, a desert of ignorance, a land
apart, the pasturage of cattle that a hyena ruled.
The cattle had one privilege, one only, but in
itself very great, the right to obey. Serfdom,
an invention of the operatic Boris Godounov,
came later. Designed, very liberally, to pre-
vent economic and military deficits, it turned



Ivan the Terrible 7

cattle into fixtures, bound the peasant to the soil.

In the days and particularly the nights of
Ivan, cattle were free, at least to die. Apart
from that added privilege, they were use-
ful to the upper classes, one of which Ivan com-
posed uniquely. The remaining population was
made up of prelates, nobles, vassals, whose lives
and possessions were Ivan's absolutely, all in
all, in the same manner that Russia was. The
realm, his personal property, was a private
estate. It lacked a fence. About it he ran a
ring of forts. The estate became a park. In
that park the modern history of Russia begins.
In it germinated the seed of progress, the onward
policy and the martyrology of uninterrupted
crime.

The potential germ Ivan cultivated. Peter
forced it into a fruit rotten before it was ripe.
In a marvel of canning, Catherine brandied it.
The rottenness remained. But the policy,
which persisted, transformed a private park into
an empire wider than the moon. It extended
Russia from polar auroras to tropic blooms. It
led the Bear through the Chinashop to the fangs
of Japan. The rottenness, obvious there, threw
her into convulsions and the delirium that en-
sued. Then again night closed on her.

Prior to Ivan there had been night only. It



8 The Imperial Orgy

was he who pronounced the Fiat lux. Day
dawned, a day blood-red which Torquemada
looking on, or rather up, from his scarlet seat at
Satan's left, must have envied, and which Domi-
tian, from his sombrer couch at Pluto's right,
may have regretted. Ivan, more sinister than
either, more fiendish than both, was unexceeded
in horror even by the khans.

During their dominion, Russia, shamming
death, lay prostrate. Ivan raised her, not very
much but still a little and left her on her knees.
For centuries that was her attitude. That she
might maintain it the more devoutly there were
tall gibbets and hot vats. These things insure
fealty. To heighten it, to make it instinctive,
Ivan instilled awe.

In the Golden Horde, when the Khan of
khans had dined, a herald announced that minor
khans could eat. It was very gracious. The
graciousness proceeded from a theory, which
Genghiz Khan made a fact, that there is one sun
— one — above, and one emperor — one — on earth.
The rest of the world was offal. With minor
variations, the Assyrian satraps, the pharaohs,
the Caesars, preluded Genghiz in that aria. It
caught Ivan's ear, suited his voice. Absolutism
with theocracy for leading motif and Tatar tom-
toms for accompaniment was the way he ren-



Ivan the Terrible 9

dered it. The aria had echoes and, the tomtoms
aiding, so loud were they that yesterday, or the
day before, you could have heard them.
Through the centuries they reverberated from
the first tsar to the last.

Ivan who had taken everything else, took the
tomtoms and with them the tomtom players, the
trained musicians of the Golden Horde who, in
Slavonic, became opritchniki which, being
translated, means assassins. At a gesture from
Ivan, they cut your head off. Convenient for
him, they were quite as convenient for his suc-
cessors. In descending the centuries their name
changed, but not their functions. Yesterday or
the day before, they were known as the red
guards. Instituted by the first tsar, they elimin-
ated the last. They were certainly very service-
able.

The Descartian Cogito ergo sum had not then
been formulated. Before it could be, Ivan
reversed it. Cogitate and you no longer were.
The aria with its tomtom accompaniments regu-
lated not only actions but thoughts. To cogitate
was not permitted. Even if it had been, no one
dreamed of such a thing. Apart from that, re-
strictions were few. Obedience only was ex-
acted and everything else forbidden. These
measures, eminently considerate, were equally



lo The Imperial Orgy

benevolent. Personal notions were sacrilegious
and sacrilege, as everybody knows, is punishable
not in this world merely, but in the next. Tor-
tured here while you lived, hereafter you were
tortured forever.

A very beautiful idea, it had perhaps its de-
fects. It put a premium on imbecility. On the
other hand, it created awe. Imbecility is suffi-
ciently common. Awe is more rare. Without
it absolutism could not have endured. Yet such
are the abysses of human stupidity that wretches
whom Ivan was torturing shrieked in their
agony, "God save the tsar!"

At tsaral command, millions have vacated the
planet. Why? They did not know. They
omitted even to ask. Batushka — the Little
Father — had so ordered. That sufficed.
These people were not very intelligent. Per-
haps Ivan was not either.

Karamsin says that he was intelligent. He
says also that he was best read man in the realm.
That may be true and mean nothing. Barring
the Bible and a few histories quite as reliable,
there was nothing to read. Ivan read the Bible.
The hyena was devout. Religion led him from
massacres to mass and back again.

Bluebeard and Caracalla combined, he had
seven wives of whom he only killed three. He



Ivan the Terrible 1 1

tickled a child. The child laughed. He ran
a knife down its throat. A boiar, not seeing him
approach, omitted to grovel. To improve his
sight his legs were broken. Another noble —
But these are minor matters. Generally, the
lackeys of history ignore them. Perhaps they
were due to nervousness. Ivan was born in a
storm which, it may be, predisposes to neurosis.
But also he was born with a sceptre in his mouth.
He was fourteen before he knew how to use it.
At that age, a boiar displeased him. He had
him thrown to the wolves, eaten alive. He was
training then for the throne of Moscow.

In recent years, Moscow was a manufactur-
ing town. Its specialty was silk. In Ivan's
day its specialty was death. In the nineteenth
century, there were high hats, yellow gloves,
women's laughter, the tinkle of the balalaika and
gypsies singing in the streets. In the sixteenth
century, Moscow was dumb. Belfries tolled,
the tocsin sounded. Apart from that there was
silence.

From afar it enchanted. It seemed a city of
sylphs in a land of chimeras. Nearer, it fright-
ened. From afar it projected the glitter of
glass, the sheen of enamel, the glow of mother-
of-pearl, a crystallisation of spangles, ochre,
azure, pink. Fairylike from afar, within was



12 The Imperial Orgy

a conjury of constructions without a name and
without example. The architecture was not
Tatar, it was not Lower Empire, it was not
Gothic. The renaissance had not come there.
Greece was absent. Neither oriental or classic,
it was tsaral. Around it circled rampants, white
and pale rose. Without was Moscow, Russia's
Mekka. Within was the Kreml, Moscow's
heart.

Ivan was the ideal tyrant. The Kreml was a
tyrant's ideal, a city of assassins that looked on
a city of victims. Fortress, abattoir, seraglio,
acropolis and necropolis in one, for a heart it
was infernal.

Ivan was born there, lived there, died there,
haunts it still. It was not his work, it was his
portrait. With curious foresight it was built
by Ivan's grandfather in Ivan's image. The
architects were Italian. There were Italian
architects everywhere. Nowhere, in no place,
at any time, has Italian art created anything in
any way similar. Like Ivan it was and remained
unique. A charnel house may be grandiose, it
cannot be sublime. The Kreml never allured.
It did better. It alarmed. At the time, Mos-
cow was the frontier of Europe, a barrier against
the East. The Kreml menaced both. In its




IV \\ THE TERRIBLE



Ivan the Terrible 13

turrets spectres watched, watch still perhaps.
Like Ivan, it was inhuman.

Without the Kreml, at a turning to the left, is
the Red Square. In the square is the Church
of Vassili Blagennoi. The name of the archi-
tect is forgotten, but not his fate. To prevent
him from elsewhere erecting a duplicate, Ivan
tore his eyes out.

To-day it suggests a corner of some universe
other than ours. But the immediate impression
is one of emancipation. You feel that the archi-
tect was freed from the pale camisoles of what
is correct. Critics have called him mad. Per-
haps he was. It is only the mad who are deliv-
ered from the commonplace.

Here the deliverance is expressed in a solidi-
fied mirage that resembles a dragon and a pea-
cock topped by flowers on fire, by painted icicles,
by strawberries gigantic and glowing, by roses
and rainbows that bewilder, delight, dismay.
The effect, vividly abnormal, is that of an hallu-
cination. It is a House of God perhaps, but of
God as men may have known Him in Atlantis,
when faith was nearer to nature than the divine.
Primarily an evocation, it remains a marvel.
Ivan's treatment of the architect has therefore
an excuse, or at least Gautier found one for



14 The Imperial Orgy

him: — "In matters of art, ferocity is preferable
to indifference."

Behind the ferocity is a story that may be un-
true but which Karamsin recites. During the
siege of Kasan, Tatar sorcerers stood on the walls
and with lifted robes vomited spells and insults
at Ivan who, Cross in hand, outfaced them. In
commemoration of the strategy, and of the vic-
tory that ensued, the Church of Vassili the Beat-
ified was erected.

Ivan took Kasan from the Tatars as Ferdi-
nand took Granada from the Moors. That re-
covery enthralled Castille. The recovery of
Kasan enraptured Muscovy. It threw back the
Golden Horde. It started the debacle of the
khans. After Kasan, Astrakhan and, with the
latter, the Caspian.

These feats are notable. So, too, at the time,
was Ivan. He was devout. He was brave.
He was handsome. Terrible he was also, but
only on the field. Presently his character
changed, his appearance altered. Where the
Christian had been came the saurian. From
handsome he grew hideous. A hyena replaced
the hero.

Perhaps a man's courage is in proportion to
his humanity. Probably if the latter diminishes
so does the former. It may be that psychologi-



Ivan the Terrible 15

cal variations alter the lines of the face. As a
lad, Nero was charming. The epileptically
obscene changed him into a cringing beast.
That and other influences affected Ivan. Best-
ial and remorseless at home, to foreign insults
he bowed. He did worse, if worse can be.

There was Kasan. He offered to return it.
There was Livonia. He gave it back. Livonia
was the gate to Europe. Muscovy had fought
for it with the Poles, with the Swedes, with the
Livonians themselves. Muscovy had won it.
Ivan owned it. It was his, with an insult for
crown.

He had asked the Polish king for his sister in
marriage. The answer he received was a white
mare tricked out like a woman. The envoi was
the king's expression of his supreme contempt.
Ivan swallowed it. Subsequently, with a rela-
tively innumerable army, with a relatively inex-
haustible treasure, he surrendered Livonia, not
at the point of the sword, but with a scratch of
the pen. The bloodiest of sovereigns, who
killed an elephant because it did not kneel at his
bidding, had grown afraid of a man.

The result is curious. Ivan had seven wives
whom he successively ignored, repudiated or
killed. By the seventh he had a son, Dmitri,
who lives in drama to-day. By the third he had



i6 The Imperial Orgy

a son, Fedor, who has survived in an opera. By
the first there had been born to him the tsare-
vitch, a lad that he was training in crime and
debauchery to reign when he had gone.

After the surrender of Livonia, the tsarevitch
asked leave to go and fight the Poles. The re-
quest was innocently made; that is, if anything
could be innocent in a hyena's whelp. But
Ivan, construing the request as a criticism, raised
a cudgel and struck him dead. Then, crocodil-
ianly, the hyena wept.

Ivan exceeded Torquemada. He exceeded
Tartuffe. Without any intention to abdicate, he
announced that he would. It may be doubted
that the martyrs loved their Roman butchers or
that the Caesars were affectioned by the saints.
But Muscovy, to whom servility was a religion
and, psychologically, a very interesting religion,
beat her battered head against the throne. With
tears and lifted .hands she prayed that he would
deign to continue to rule. To him, to rule was
to kill and justified by the national genuflections,
murder became not merely a joy but a duty, one
that he so punctiliously fulfilled that, when he
died, the desolation experienced was curious and
even biblical.

Historically the desolation was profund, yet,
unless any present conjecture is hopeless, it must



Ivan the Terrible 17

have been less pronounced than the desolation
which Ivan himself effected. In spite of his
ultimate attitude to Poland, previously he had
been terrific.

Poland at the time, predominant in the north,
had for emblem the sun. Other tsars attended
to that. They put it out. Ivan attended to
Novgorod who had been stretching a hand to
its rays. The attention involved, first the
destruction of the surrounding country. For
years it was bare. Famine stalked there and on
the heels of famine, plague. Already Ivan had
attended to the inhabitants.

Every day for a month, thousands were dis-
patched. Some were ordered to scaffolds, to
cauldrons, to the river, where they were thrown
wholesale. Some were hacked to pieces.
Others were first hacked and then boiled. In
the river, children were tied to their mothers.
Guards, armed with pikes rowed among them,
shoved them down. The guards and execution-
ers wearied; Ivan never.

Occasionally he prayed. This was his prayer:
"Remember, Lord, the souls of Thy servants,
inhabitants of this town, whose names Thou
knowest."

Incidentally he kept tally. One of the lists
gives three thousand four hundred and seventy



18 The Imperial Orgy

"whose names Thou knowest." On other lists,
names that he had learned are itemised "with his
wife," "with his wife and children," "with his
sons and daughters."

The prayers at an end, the lists completed and
filed, Ivan returned to Moscow where, in the
Red Square, at the east wall of the Kreml, other
traitors "whose names Thou knowest" waited.

Here were more cauldrons, more gibbets;
saws that cut you in two; pincers that pulled your
tongue out; machines that slipped you, like an
eel, from your skin. Then as, leisurely, the first
tortures began, Ivan, foaming like a horse,
called at the tortured: —

"I am your god!"

Very consoling and equally true. To a
people dumb and driven, he was a god, jealous
perhaps, perhaps also severe, but so wholly
divine that after the Novgorod ceremonies, am-
bassadors who passed that way found the Volga
dammed by the corpses that the god had left.

For these envoys other, things were in store,
the surprise of discovering a new realm, a land
that stretched .between Europe and Asia, a mon-
archy whose sovereign was more formidable
than the khans. It amazed them, as the unim-
agined always does amaze. But a detail sur-
prised. In the faraway burgs and keeps from



Ivan the Terrible 19

which they had come, they were clearly entitled
to whatever was not taken away from them. In
Russia, matters were ordered differently. There
the ruler, after taking everything else, put the
iron hand of absolutism on whatever his subjects
possessed. Privileges and property, all were
his, in fee-simple. Their right to breathe was
subject to the caprice of a despot who had taken
septentrional sables and bicephalous eagles for
device and who called himself tsar.

The sables were indigenous, the eagles Byzan-
tine, but the title tsar, a word that means power,
originated in Assyria where it became the ter-
minology of kings, notably of Nabonassar,
Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar. Muscovy, find-
ing the title in the Slavonian translation of the
Bible, gave it to the khans. It was from them
that Ivan took it. Antecedent rulers had been
grand princes, grand-dukes. In assuming the
higher title, Ivan glorified the realm.

In the Kreml, where he held court, it would
have been interesting to have seen him. On a
throne of gold, that was set with two thousand
diamonds — a present from a brother reptile, the
Shah — a diadem on his hideous head, in one


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