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stitution and at the same time and very sensibly
they had been nudging and asking: — "Who is
this Konstitusia? Is she Constantine's wife?"

Even otherwise what business was it of theirs?
Those that did not die in the streets, died in
the Neva, shoved through holes cut in the ice,
though some were beaten to death, others peo-
pled Asia and a few were hanged. Among the
latter, three fell from the gallows and broke their
legs. They were hanged again. Afterward they
were decently buried. On their graves, in lieu
of the usual cross, Nicholas put little gibbets.
"Under Tiberius there was quiet," Tacitus, with
dramatic brevity, noted. There was quiet then.

Thereafter the lupercalia became a drama at
which you were permitted to assist, but given
any disturbance on your part, any remarks, any
criticism, any whispering, anything whatever ex-
cept applause, and out you went, tossed into a
sudden grave, or, less fortunately, into a living
one. Russia soon discovered that. So did Po-
land.

Poland still lived, still prayed, murmured
occasionally; occasionally, too, fevered with
hope, she bandaged her wounds in national rags
and sang. The song was of her past. In earlier
days, Muscovy had been her vassal. As Russia
rose, Poland fell. Three butchers tripped her.



182 The Imperial Orgy

Sharpening their knives, Catherine, the Aus-
trian ruler, the Prussian king, agreed that her
body and blood should be a sacrament of com-
munion. Mutilated, dismembered, but not
dead, Poland crawled through time to the feet
of Nicholas. He stamped on her.

In the atrocities of Caligula there was a rea-
son. He wanted to leave a name that history
would preserve. In the atrocities of Nicholas
there was also a reason. From history he wanted
a name erased. He wanted to exterminate a
nation. He deigned to decree — the term is
official — that millions should change their lan-
guage for his, abjure their religion for him. He
deigned further to provide a ritual of the wor-
ship due to himself. At any objection, the knout,
exile, the gallows. Poles were driven in hordes
to Tartary, or, more expeditiously, to death. Ten
thousand children were taken from their parents,
engulfed in Russia, lost there. Rather than have
them go, other children were killed by their
parents. Like Caligula, Herod also left a name.
That of Nicholas exceeds it.

The crime of the revolutionists was that they
had tried to think. Poland's crime was that she
had succeeded. Nicholas was determined that
there should be no thought ir Russia save such



The Last Despot 183

as issued from the zeros in his head. Any other
variety he regarded as atheism.

To prevent the entrance of foes, Ivan ringed
the realm with forts. To prevent the entrance
of light, Nicholas quarantined it. Within, Ivan
made a cemetery; Nicholas, a camp. Immense
improvement. Petersburg became a parade-
ground of soldiery constantly defiling, a bivouac
in which everything was exacted, nothing per-
mitted and before which, gun in hand, Nicholas
paced like a sentry, guarding the past, challeng-
ing enlightenment, bidding progress begone,
calling at the world: — "Qui vive?"

A German from head to foot, without a drop
of Russian blood, he had married a Prussian,
Charlotte of Hohenzollern, who acquired a mor-
ibund air, the result of being a mother too often.

"S'epuiser en grand-dues, quelle destined"
said de Custine after scrutinising her at a court
ball, which he described as not splendour mere-
ly, but poetry.

The high walls were mirrors banked with
flowers, framed with gold, heightened with
lustres, and their effect, which was that of dia-
mond curtains in a shadowless fairyland, turned
the vast hall into a spaciousness where there was
but light and illusion and where the dancers



184 The Imperial Orgy

multiplied themselves indefinitely. It was magi-
cal, de Custine added.

Magic is not gaiety. No one laughed, no one
talked, people conversed about nothing in whis-
pers. There was constraint there, there was
fear, that fear that brooded over Russia and
which lurked in the palace of the Caesars. In
the assembly, were kingdomless kings, queens
discrowned, slave sovereigns — revivals of the
pomps of Rome — and a heat that was Senegam-
bian.

Polar zephyrs annoyed the presiding Teutons.
The independence of nature shocked them.
De Custine said that the surest way to please
Nicholas was to treat Petersburg as though it
were Nice and to go about without furs in win-
ter. Flatter the climate and you flattered the
tsar, whose intelligence even Victoria regarded
as limited.

It would have been pleasant to have seen those
two at Windsor. It would have been pleasanter
yet to have seen him afterward, when she sent
him the ultimatum which was the fanfare to the
Crimean war. The ultimatum was delivered
to Nesselrode, who was his foreign minister.
Nesselrode — to-day a pudding — said that his
august lord would not deign to notice it, which
was tantamount to telling her to go to hell. It



The Last Despot 185

was she who sent him there, more exactly, it was
Russia's subsequent allies, England and France.

A very ignorant, a very brutal and — at this
distance — a very amusing person, Nicholas none
the less was a real figure, not a lay one, an iron
man, liberty's exterminating angel, a being who
annihilated the goddess whenever she appeared.
In that was his glory, such as it is, and, such as
it was, for thirty years he sustained it over Rus-
sia awed and Europe coerced. For thirty
years, Ivan to his people, he was Agamemnon
among kings.

Europe, though coerced, could think. It oc-
curred to her that the iron man might be a scare-
crow. With Russia it was different. Submis-
sive she lay at the feet of her paradomaniac,
who knew but one joy, the sight of troops con-
stantly parading, and but one consolation, the
conviction that he was the great I Am. The con-
viction was an illusion which Europe presently
proceeded to ablate. The shock of the loss of
it killed him. The story of it all is called the
Crimean War.

That inglorious scramble into which England
entered with the stern spirit of a policeman and
France with the vendetta views of a bandit, be-
gan over a question of therapeutics. Nicholas
declared that the Sultan was a Sick Man. The



186 The Imperial Orgy

diagnosis was his own. By way of regimen, he
proposed to break into the patient's room, first
finish, then rob him. But though the diagnosis
was novel, the second-storey treatment was not.

Constantinople, the old imperial city, Tsar-
grad as Muscovy called her, had been the secular
goal of Slav ambition. Sophia Palaelogus,
Ivan's grandmother, was a descendant of the
final Byzantine emperor. Later tsars regarded
themselves as that Caesar's heir. Russia's his-
toric pretensions to Stamboul had no other or-
igin. In the initial stages of the subsequent
world war, it was therefore highly diplomatic
of England to think of offering it to her, parti-
cularly as she thereby succeeded — and to Ger-
many's glee — in alienating both Bulgaria and
Greece. The Coburg adventurer expected to
sit there. So also did Constantine and his Hun
Klytemnestra.

But, at this time, England could not counten-
ance the Slav ambition. The Dardanelles Rus-
sian, the Mediterranean would be a Muscovite
lake and Turkey a carpet to the Indus. Eng-
land could not permit that, nor France either.

France, formerly the most militant of nations,
yet then very bourgeois, had her hand forced.
The bait of revenge was dangled at her. The
dangling was done by Louis Napoleon, who al-



The Last Despot 187

ready had deceived everybody twice — first in
pretending that he was a fool; afterward, in pre-
tending he wasn't. Revenge was not his object.
He wanted to get into society and take his wife
there. More exactly, it was the lady who
wanted him to do both. So much for Helen.
Now for Agamemnon.

Asiatically, with Tatar contempt, the Ger-
man bastard eyed the Frenchman and asked if
he remembered what Russia had done to the
other fellow. Then the allies went at him.
Sevastopol was their objective. Their object
was less certain. The troops did not know
whether they were for or against the Sick Man,
who was quite as real to them as the Pierrot in
the moon. The high command, better informed
perhaps, was not for that reason overburdened
with intelligence. They thought the serfs
would rise and Sevastopol topple.

Official Russia had an equivalent understand-
ing of the allies. "We have only to shy our hats
at the imbeciles," she carelessly remarked. Half
a century later, her opinion of the Japanese was
as cheerful. "Monkeys with the brains of par-
rots," they were grand-ducally described. But
though she was not happy in her views of the
coalition, she was happier with it than with



l88 The Imperial Orgy

Nippon. The sum total of the allied achieve-
ments was the reduction of a single citadel.

That citadel, Sevastopol, the arsenal of the
empire, held, behind a veil of forts, a fleet that
was to make the Sick Man sicker. Once the
arsenal taken and the fleet destroyed, the patient
was safe. So argued the allies. Into the
Euxine they sailed, on the sacred Chersonese
they landed. From heights above the Alma, a
river to the north of Sevastopol, the Russians
blazed at them. The allies crossed the river,
climbed the heights, said, "How are you?" and
let them run, which they did, to Sevastopol, be-
wildered by such civility. To show perhaps
that they had not come for mere amenities, the
allies went around to Balaklava, on the other
side of the arsenal, tried to pound it from there,
pounded it, or tried to pound it, from the sea,
failing in each effort, finding that instead of a
naval excursion, they were confronted by an
army then eager to get at them.

That army, at which the Light Brigade made
a dash so magnificent that Bosquet exclaimed,
"Ce n'est pas la guerre!" and Tennyson, very
originally and unobviously added, "Some one
had blundered," that army drew the allies at
Inkerman into a sublimated Donnybrook Fair,
a rough and tumble, in the dark, in the rain, in



The Last Despot i8g

which it was beaten but only because the allies
were the bigger gluttons. Of generalship there
was none. English tactics were simple. It was
"Up boys and at 'em." French strategy was
not more complicated, nor was the Russian finer.
But the accounts make very agreeable reading,
so agreeable that, in considering them now, any-
one who did not know better might mistake the
Russians for titans and the allies for gods.

Ultimately, the gods muddled through, but
not until they had out-manceuvred the titans'
chief of staff, General February, General Chol-
era and the usual traitor in the allies camp, Gen-
eral Stupidity. These interfered. So did an-
other strategist, the Weather. Allied ships,
bearing supplies, were overtaken and sunk by
storms marshalled by General February. Gen-
eral Stupidity saw to it that provisions that
eluded the gales either rotted obscurely or else
landed safely in Russian mouths. General
Stupidity, reinforced by General Cholera, ar-
ranged that the sick had no succour, the maimed
no aid. Yet, presently, there were correspond-
ents to tell of these things — inkbeasts as Bis-
marck subsequently called them. Presently,
also, there were angels to relieve — English
women from whose work the Red Cross re-
sulted.



190 The Imperial Orgy

Meanwhile the siege progressed and very cur-
iously. It was a siege that involuted, doubled
on itself, presenting an oddity, the spectacle of
beleaguers as beset as the beleagued, of forces
contending with other foes than each other, of
incompetence pitted against corruption. Fin-
ally, after routs and heroics, ramparts were
scaled, redoubts were taken, Sevastopol fell. It
fell as Moscow fell. Like Moscow it was
burned. Its sables were shrivelled, its fortresses
dumb, the wings of the eagles were clipped.

For the time being that is. Twenty years
later Russia was again at the Sick Man. She
was at his door. But for the police she would
have had him. As it was she got away with a
lot of his goods. Said Salisbury admiringly:
"We put our money on the wrong horse."

At this time matters were very different. At
the crash of the fall of the arsenal, Russia awoke.
Humiliated by the presence of hostile legions on
her sacred peninsula, dismayed in the Crimea
as she was to be in the East, startled by the totter
of bastions which official corruption had under-
mined, aghast at the cries of soldiers to whom
that corruption had been the bitterest foe, bereft
of her belief in imperial might, Russia rose from
her secular slumber and arraigned autocracy at
the bar of God.



The Last Despot 191

Nicholas, the iron man, sank back. A car-
toonist pictured General February also turning
traitor and poking a frigid ringer at the emper-
or's heart. Nicholas had no heart. What he
did have was a thoroughly mistaken idea of his
own importance. That gone, fright replaced it.

Fright plucked at his sleeve, shoved him to
bed, then to his grave, nodded good-riddance,
turned to his heirs and destroyed them. Over,
beneath, around and about them, it set a tyranny
more tyrannic than their own.

Tsars, hitherto, had the freedom that waves
possess. Thereafter, behind their own high
throne, a higher one stood. In it sat the giant
whom the gilded eyes of destiny perhaps fore-
saw on that day when the white roses changed
to red and Nicholas hushed the parrots. The
giant was King Terror.

Perhaps Nicholas also foresaw him. He had
no imagination, but life is a book that man reads
when he dies. In its pages that vanish as you
touch them, myopia may become clairvoyance
and obtuseness understanding. It may be that
from before the flickering eyes of the dying
tyrant a veil was lifted. It may be that he saw
red hosts trampling tsardom into the things that
were, tossing the last of the breed to the bats of
a Siberian Avcrnus. It is said that he did not



192 The Imperial Orgy

die of pneumonia, as was officially announced,
but of a drug of his choosing. Like books,
drugs, too, have their sorceries and his may have
shown him that the fate of autocracy is the hell
from which it came. But probably it did noth-
ing of the kind. Probably he remained to the
end, heavy-witted, unenlightened. Yet if it be
true that the dead turn in the grave at what they
see, long since he must have been in perpetual
motion.



IX

KING TERROR

ROME had other gods than the Caesars,
herds of them, so many that they out-
numbered the population. Except a
few little gods and one very great divinity, they
were all foreigners. Most of them were known
to everybody. But not the great god. His
name, a secret, only the hierophants knew. A
senator was put to death for having uttered it.
Engendered perhaps by Pan who engendered
Panic, the great god was Pavor — Terror. With
him, Rome conquered the world. Then he
turned and tore her.

The history of Russia is an expurgated edition
of that of Rome. There are blanks in it. One
blank is nine hundred years long. The rest is
the chronicle of an orgy at which autocrats
feasted longly. After Sevastopol, history turn-
ed, reversing the orgy, putting the table on top
and despots beneath, revealing to their cowering
eyes one greater than they, the old god who then

193



194 The Imperial Orgy

was king. He, too, could feast and from their
cups of mud and blood he tore them.

The first Nicholas escaped him only by dying.
Yet such was the shock of the sight of his face,
that that hangman, who was Liberty's execu-
tioner, gibbered, "Emancipation!"

Here enters his son, Alexander II. History
shows how the great monarch dogged him; how
he shadowed his successor; how he annihilated
the last of the lot; how disinterring the forgot-
ten, he instituted a despotism more destructive
than theirs and became an evocation of Gen-
ghiz. Attila wanted to destroy civilisation.
Genghiz wanted to destroy humanity. Terror
can be quite as gentle.

There is an odd tale of a wizard who kept in
a bottle an imp that he worshipped. One day
the imp got out and slew him. Terror resem-
bles that imp. Terror used to be a fetish of the
tsars. The day came when the fetish was heads-
man. In history as it is written, the second
Alexander was killed by a bomb. That is a
superficial view. An autocrat was killed by his
ikon.

A tall German, with a heavy jowl, a receding
forehead, a cavalry moustache and mutton-chop
whiskers, Alexander II. was the portrait, in
blood, of Nietzsche's blonde beast. Like Nietz-



King Terror 195

sche, he had frequented the antique sages.
When anything annoying confronted them, they
confronted it, waved it away, denied its exist-
ence. Excellent tactics. Alexander employed
them on Poland. Drugged with the poppies of
her eternal hopes, Poland rose up before him.
With a stare, he blighted her.

After Poland, nihilism. In between — and
the margin has the width of years — stood the
Porte. The tsar stared at the sultan who stared
back. Abdul the Damned was quite as vulper-
ine as any other autocrat and considerably more
astute. "Time and I against all comers," was
the motto that hung in the Yildiz Kiosk. He
was ill though, sick with the same malady that
Dr. Nicholas had diagnosed. Yet, invalid
though he were, he liked to bundle Christians
off the earth. It distracted ,him. Gladstone
could not stand that nor, to Gladstone's disgust,
could Alexander.

Alexander cared nothing about Abdul's
amusements. Former tsars had dispatched too
many Christians for additional dispatches to vex
him. But the tsaral heritage, the antique Greek
throne, the immemorial desire to slake an im-
perial thirst in the waters of the Golden Horn,
that was another aria, highly melodious, yet held
profane in the European Sunday-school con-



196 The Imperial Orgy

cert. The familiar and altruistic hymn con-
cerning the purification of St. Sophia was much
more decorous and entoning it he marched Sko-
beleff against Abdul, who countermarched,
nearly marched over him and then marched
back, farther, farther still, from the Shipka Pass
and Plevna to San Stephano and the slim gilt
gates of Stamboul.

Skobeleff had him. Byzantium, the imperial
houri, Roman in body but Greek in soul, whose
fair beauty even the ferocious apostolicism of
the Turks could not wholly mar, was in his
grasp. At that moment British ironclads en-
tered the Dardanelles. Skobeleff snapped his
fingers. Alexander commanded him to glove
them and salute. Skobeleff's anger was Hom-
eric. It shook the legions. They adored him.
With them he would have taken Alexander and
hanged him. The Caesars had their brews. So
had the tsars. Skobeleff, hero of Plevna, a na-
tional idol, was poisoned. History can only
record it. History is an endless book. Nihil-
ism was writing a page in it then.

Nihilism, mother of bolshevism, came, as her
daughter came, from Germany. A simple
creed, it held that the happiness of mankind
requires the abolition of everything. Assuming
that to be true, happiness remains to be defined,



King Terror 197

which it never has been, except by Voltaire, who
called it a myth invented by Satan for man's
despair. Utopia is perhaps as mythical and gen-
eral happiness a chimera. General content-
ment seems less illusory. Its main factor, per-
haps, is non-interference and that may come
when man shall have learned that nothing is
important.

Nihilism is a term that a saint invented. In
the De civitate Dei, Augustin said: — "Nihilisti
appelantur quia nihil credunt et nihil docent."
Nihilists believe in nothing and teach it.

Russian nihilism first took shape after the
Crimea. After San Stephano, it took substance.
Weening, trundling, training it, was old King
Terror.

Nihilism, originally a theory, afterward a
doctrine, became a force. The theory interested,
the doctrine impressed. The force developed
a generation new to Russia, a generation that
thought. To think was always forbidden and
very unnecessarily. No one dreamed of such
a thing. Besides, it was a depraved occupation.
It induced disease. It induced it then. It
caused a form of neurosis of which poverty of
the blood and empty pockets were contributory.
The new generation lacked food. In the open,



198 The Imperial Orgy

before the palace, it cried for reform. Alex-
ander stared. The cries redoubled.

Alexander deigned to admonish. Solemnly,
he stated that reforms come not from below but
from above.

He might have added that revolutions dis-
play the same phenomena. He might have ex-
plained that the Convention was the work not
of plebeians but of philosophers. He might
have shown that in France, after everything had'
been demolished, everything was rebuilt. He
might have demonstrated that in the upheaval
only names were changed, that instead of a king
by right divine, there was a dictator by might
infernal.

These platitudes he could have adorned with
anecdote. But, son of an iron man and father
of another in an iron mask, he was not other-
wise ironic. He lacked the wit to deduce the
paradox that Russia could be worse off than
she was and the humour to declare that he would
facilitate it. In circumstances such as con-
fronted him, it was the fashion of his house to
turn everybody into mincemeat. Instead of
decimating, he vacillated; instead of jesting, he
promised. To his subsequent regret that prom-
ise he kept. Freedom was tossed to the people
like a bone to a dog. Forty million human



King Terror 199

chattels had an in perpetuum mortgage on them
lifted.

Former tsars gave them away by the thousand
and as readily as a snuff-box. They were won
and lost at cards, auctioned with furniture and
cows, sold with lands designated as "inhabited
estates." Actually chattels, descriptively serfs,
technically they were souls — when male. A
woman had no soul. With Alexander's permis-
sion she acquired one. It was very considerate
of him. But to the owners, robbed of their
goods, the whole thing was a despotic caprice.
To the manumitted it was confusing. The bone
they got was bare as your hand. Was it even a
bone? They had their doubts. To their lords
they had been accustomed to say: — "We are
yours, but the land is ours!"

Abruptly, through some legerdemain, they
ceased to be anybody's, the land ceased to be
theirs, apparently free to come and go, they had
nowhere to go to. The earth had opened. All
that remained was their hovels, where they
could continue to starve — on paying for the priv-
ilege. If that was liberty, they preferred slav-
ery. More exactly, they preferred to believe
that somewhere, very far no doubt, but some-
where, the little father on a high throne sat wait-
ing and willing to give them such land as they



200 The Imperial Orgy

needed. Otherwise, what did this word emanci-
pation mean?

Nihilism explained. Emancipation meant
that for land to be free it must first be manured
with the blood of mythical Romanovs. There
are explanations that do not explain. There are
also natures that are not receptive. To the peo-
ple, the Romanovs, however mythical, were
sacrosanct, quasi if not wholly divine. The idea
is absurd, but the absurder an idea the more fan-
atics it can claim. The certainties of mathe-
matics are not exciting, but for chimeras nations
have fought and died. What is more remark-
able, they have drudged. Russia had drudged
too long for the tsars to turn on Alexander. Even
otherwise the manumitted were dull. Ages of
despotism had not soured their minds. They
had none. They had only a few wants reduced
to a minimum, a few instincts knavish and primi-
tive. They liked to get drunk. They liked to
rob. But for the knout they had a pathetic re-
spect; they had an inherited hatred of novelty,
and an ingrained awe of the tsar. To such as
they, the explanations of nihilism were as wind
on the steppes. Ideas could not be planted on
wastes that so long had been bare. What ty-
ranny had not stirred, theory could not affect.
Nihilism, outfaced by stolidity, wheeled.



King Terror 201

From the peasant, it turned to the palace. Islam
had converted with the sword, the Inquisition
with the stake, the Convention with the guillo-
tine. Demonstrations being futile, nihilism
took to dynamite. Murder clubs mushroomed
in Petersburg. Autocracy became a despotism
tempered by bombs.

Between the foregoing sentences there are
years. There are concessions, too — of the kind
that put Louis XVI. in the tumbril. Like that
imbecile, Alexander II. had inherited a situation


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