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The imperial orgy, an account of the tsars from the first to the last online

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merry, though not to his fill. In view of the
fashion in which the cup was torn from him,
there is little in history more curious than an
incident that occurred at his coronation and
which exactly paralleled an incident that hap-
pened at the coronation of Louis XVI. On each
occasion the blood of thousands cascaded.

Otherwise it were interesting to have been at



222 The Imperial Orgy

Moscow when the tsar appeared. In a dark
uniform, on a pale horse and pale himself from
the fast that preceded any coronation, the last
and least of the great carnivora rode in. Behind
him, in a gilded coach which an imperial crown
surmounted, his mother came, bowing to the
right, to the left, with a grace mechanical but
sovereign. Already she had recovered from the
loss of her Nebuchadnezzar. Behind her, in
another gilt coach, but minus the crown which
as yet was withheld, the tsaritsa sat, rigid, dis-
dainful, her mouth contracted by lines that were
to change her face, then singularly beautiful,
into a tragic and wasted mask. Along the route,
rigid also, but very gorgeous, glittered the im-
perial guard. Back of these swarmed the stage-
managed unwashed. Above was the turquoise of
the mid-May sky.

In the Kreml, on the morrow, the archaic,
fastidious and highly poetic ceremonial was
ministered to a weak young man, for whom the
crown was too heavy — in the same manner that,
at Rheims, the sixteenth Louis found his crown
too big — and who, bent beneath its weight and
that of the bullion on his cloak, dropped the
sceptre, which any gypsy could have foretold
he was destined to drop again. Beside him his
bride, born Alix of Hesse, but then Alexandra



The Whirlwind 223

Feodorovna of All the Russias, stood erect, her
triply tiara'd head unbowed.

Afterward, in the glowing and legendary
pomp of long ago, the couple emerged on a ter-
race, draped with imperial purple and cloth of
gold, where they looked on the trained and
kneeling crowd beneath, and where an eye-wit-
ness, Marie of Rumania, likened them, in their
youth and splendour, to the young divinities of
old Greece.

The comparison, trite perhaps, is not inapt.
On that day, at that moment, both leaned from
a parapet of the ideal. The parapet was very
fragile. On that day, throngs of the lowly that
had come to acclaim, remained to die. Herded
together, they were trampled to death. The
reign which that day began in blood, ended as
bloodily. In it were whole scenes re-enacted
from the history of Louis XVI.

Only the interludes differ. Yet, even there,
there are similarities. From the old memoirs
of the old French court, magicians peer.
Through them passes the enigmatic figure of
Cagliostro whom, in the court of Nicholas II.,
Rasputin aped.

In the Winter Palace and afterward when, for
a reason that will be recited, that palace was
abandoned, crystal-gazers, astrologers, soothsay-



224 The Imperial Orgy

ers were ceaselessly employed, until, Rasputin
supervening, they were thanked and dismissed.

In the interim, minor events occurred. The
tsaritsa who had snubbed everybody, including
Victoria R. I., contrived to present the curious
spectacle of an empress boycotted in her court.
Perhaps there is no debt more faithfully ac-
quitted than that of contempt, and the disdain
which this woman dispensed was such that, bar-
ring officials and other people too servile to be
affronted, those commanded to court-functions
neglected to appear. Had these negligences
been confined to a few, the manners of the negli-
gent might have been corrected in the finishing
school that Siberia was. But the penalising of
all the aristocracy being, not impossible cer-
tainly, but perhaps injudicious, the Winter
Palace which, the Vatican alone excepted, was
the largest and most regal residence extant, be-
came a haunt of caretakers, a haunt, too, of
ghosts.

The domestic life of the sovereigns was, mean-
while, eminently correct. Nikolai Alexandro-
vitch, a model husband, maintained and very
sumptuously a lady of the ballet. Therewith, a
devoted father, he had but one regret. He
lacked an heir. To comfort him, the birth of
the tsarevitch was mediumistically foretold,



The Whirlwind 225

though, it may be that in the child's advent,
Prince Orlov collaborated. So at least it has
been said. It has been also said that the boy's
potential ability to have children of his own an
anarchist eliminated.

These tales may be untrue. What exceeds
them is the spectacle of an empress owned by
a peasant. Rasputin dominated that woman
who, domineering herself, dominated her hus-
band. Yet that could not have been difficult.
Without any will of his own, without any ideas
except such as concerned his prerogatives and,
like the Emperor Claudius — Messalina's hus-
band — always of the opinion of the one who
spoke last, which, in this instance, was the tsar-
itsa, Nikolai Alexandrovitch presented a per-
fectly defined case of aboulia. It was not he
who ruled, it was his wife, whom Rasputin gov-
erned. At a gesture from the latter, policies
were altered, measures reversed. At a gesture,
anyone, no matter what the rank and the higher
the better, was dismissed. At any remonstrance,
exile.

In the gardens of Tsarskoie Sclo, there was a
chapel and, under it, a crypt beautified with
Byzantine art, with jewelled marvels, with bro-
cades which the centuries had faded; a crypt
mystically embellished and of which the peace



226 The Imperial Orgy

was stirred only by the choir in the chapel above.
There, the haughtiest woman on earth consorted
with an ignoble and sinister satyr.

Rasputin entered history, dramatically, in a
murder and, quite as dramatically, vacated it,
murdered in turn. Originally a vermin-eaten
peasant and always a venomous brute, the mur-
der with which he was associated singularly re-
sembled the one related by Erckmann-Chatrian
in the Polish Jew. The details are nearly iden-
tical, except that while, in the novel, the crimi-
nal went mad, Rasputin went free — to become a
prophet, a saint, possessed, as he pleasantly de-
scribed himself, by the Holy Ghost.

In spite of which, in spite too of practises
that only reticences can convey, he rose, as Pe-
ter's laundress rose, on the escalator of fate, from
the soil to the throne. There he was waited
on by the dignitaries of the empire, as Zubov
was valeted by the princes of the realm. In him
the Pompadour lineage revived. For the first
time in history, a mujik was tsar.

A swarthy blackguard, thaumaturge and
comedian, his power over the empress was due
to two factors, perhaps to three. The third
may have been the woman's dementia. Apart
from that, Rasputin possessed the coercive spells
of magnetism and clairvoyance. The other fac-




MIX OF HESSE

Wll i 01 sn HOI IS mi i \sr



The Whirlwind 227

tor, and probably the most potent, was a doctrine
that he advanced as his own but which, a cen-
tury earlier, Boileau summarised as the enjoy-
ment in paradise of the pleasures of hell.

The doctrine, known as quietism, originated
with Molinos, a Madrilene monk. Morbid as
was everything that came from Spain, it held
that temptations are the means employed by God
to purge the soul of passion; that to mortify the
flesh it should be gratified; that in the omni-
sapience of the divine, man is saved not merely
by righteousness but by evil, by crapulence as
well as continence.

These tenets which Rasputin imposed, were
accepted by the empress in that crypt, where she
was followed by her daughters, whose governess,
Mademoiselle Toutschev, complained to their
father that Rasputin visited them at night.
Whether actual relations occurred is obscure and
unimportant. It has been more or less au-
thoritatively stated that they did occur and
whether the statement be true or false, it was
one of the causes that led to the mujik's death.

At the time, as in Rome before the fall, every-
thing was for sale. Before the fall of the Rus-
sian empire, place, power, army contracts, min-
isterial portfolios, everything, the virtue of
women, the honour of men, the defense of the



228 The Imperial Orgv

realm, everything was up for auction, except the
throne and that only because in it sat the auc-
tioneer, who had to sit somewhere pending its
projected sale to curio-collectors in the Wil-
helmstrasse.

Before that could occur, in the streets, thea-
tres and basilicas of the capital, the national an-
them was sung. The anthem was a thanksgiv-
ing for Rasputin's death. Rasputin, invited to
supper at the residence of Prince Youssoupov,
went there flanked by the prefect of police whom
the prince ejected. Then he was killed and his
body, thrown in the Neva, from which it was
fished, was buried in the crypt beneath the chapel
at Tsarskoie Selo. After the fall of the em-
pire, the body was exhumed, spat on, destroyed.

Sic semper, perhaps. A blackmailing tyrant
in Germany's pay, Rasputin was hated as thor-
oughly as Nikolai was despised. Other sov-
ereigns had been feared, loathed, revered, ig-
nored and forgot. For Nikolai Alexandrovitch
there was only contempt, in which his wife
joined. She regarded him as Catherine the
Greater regarded Peter the Small and, through a
myopia which the glare of regalia may have in-
duced, regarded herself as another Star of the
North.

An ungracious woman, tactless, acrimonious



The Whirlwind 229

and stupid, a woman who never unbent and
never smiled, she was highly imaginative. Ma-
rie of Rumania, a kinswoman who was as close
to her as anyone could get, said that she be-
lieved herself infallible, supreme, unique, lifted
immeasurably above all mankind. It was a be-
lief that some of the Caesars entertained and
from which their madness resulted. In shar-
ing it, this woman may have become insane,
though quite as readily her dementia — if de-
mented she were — may have been congenital.
Insanity is hereditary in the Hessian house of
Brabant. Her brother's favourite recreation
was tatting. But the woman's opinion of her-
self was otherwise and quite as agreeably ex-
emplified. Fancying herself supernormal, she
believed in spiritist mysticism, believed too that
her station required that she should appear in
gala robes at breakfast. The robes themselves
were those of a parvenu. Yet always perhaps
a false conception of religion is inseparable
from bad taste in dress, and her taste was such
that even after the gala vulgarity was aban-
doned, the smart women of Petersburg took
her costumes as models of what was not to be
worn. Later still, she affected a simplicity of
attire that would have been ostentatious were it
not for the ribbons of jewels that she wore even



230 The Imperial Orgy

in the privacy of her own apartments, where
she sat by the hour, without moving, without
speaking, lost in some dream, perhaps of Or-
lov, who had killed himself and whose grave
she covered with flowers and tears.

It was years later that the mujik appeared
and departed. Yet when this woman also de-
parted, and on a journey that took her farther
and deeper than any empress ever went, the
guards at Tsarskoie Selo shouted their derision:

"Goodbye, Madame Rasputin!"

Her husband has been described as a shadow.
A shadow, yes, but a shadow that crushed.
Long before, on what is known as Bloody Sun-
day, a body of workmen set out to present a
petition to him, their little father. Before they
could reach the Winter Palace, their little father
had them mowed. A few, that were wounded
merely, survived. It was forbidden to collect
a kopeck for them.

At that time the orgy had been resumed. Yet
for the fair chalices of crime, the jewelled cups
of mud and blood, and that table set with the
epergnes of felony, the tuberoses of torture and
imperial behests, another reveller, a noceur
gayer than all the autocrats of all the Russias,
stood by, laughing and jesting, waiting with gal-
lant unconcern until the clock should strike.



The Whirlwind 231

When the clock did strike, when Nikolai
Alexandrovitch after being deported was shot,
the alien and perhaps unconsidered verdict was
that he had been murdered. On another plane
that ruling may have been reversed. Long
since, a court of last resort may have decided
that the rifle that killed him was charged only
— and yet how amply! — with the tears, the
groans, the cries of the helpless, sent to typhus,
to insanity, to death, massacred at his command.

Commonsense might have preserved him.
But in his case, in view of the indigent men-
tality of his presumptive ancestors', common-
sense would have been abnormal. Instead was a
derangement, clinically known as uranomania.
A dwarf fancied himself divine. It was a fam-
ily illusion which, other things being equal, he
might have retained. His wife interfered. She
also had illusions. She fancied that she looked
like Marie Antoinette. It was Bazaine whom
she resembled. Anything is possible. The day
may come when she will be canonised.

In Hungary, Attila is a saint. In Russia, Alix
of Hesse may be beatified. Even otherwise,
when history is more intelligently viewed, it
may be realised that the powers unseen guided
this woman to open the prison in which Ivan



232 The Imperial Orgy

caged a nation and for that, it may be, men will
rise and call her blessed.

Previously, during a revolution that succeeded
the Japanese war, this woman and that shadow
hid in a palace that even from afar one was for-
bidden to stop and look at. Guarded by sot-
nias of Cossacks, there they crouched. Not
alone. Terror crouched there also. Through
grated casements the kramola peered. From
that mysterious tribunal of the revolutionists,
fluttered the death-heads that the previous in-
cumbent knew and from which he, too, had
shrunk.

In proportion as graves multiplied and the
population of Siberia increased, the revolution
waned. With a rictus, Terror passed, waving
a hand, calling, "Au plaisir!" When he re-
turned, he came riding a whirlwind that startled
a world already inured to the startling and in
which the seven times twisted coil of state
snapped like a withered twig.

The cell, the knout, torture, exile, insanity,
death, what could be more instructive? For
centuries Russia had had a university training
in all that was meant and done by the tsar's
command. There is no shape of demonism, no
form of horror that she did not know by heart.
That poor heart of hers was a doctor of philos-



The Whirlwind 233

ophy in imperial crime. When, therefore, the
tsar ceased to instruct and it was Russia that
taught, the benefits of her liberal education
leaped.

Hunland, long since, had launched her holy
crusade. Russia, then, was needy as a knife-
grinder. Internally disorganised, bureaucrati-
cally corrupt, she lacked every equipment, brains
included. Otherwise she was admirably pre-
pared. There were Huns in the army, in the
navy, in the ministry of war, at the tsar's elbow,
in his bed. It was from these batrachian in-
fluences that bolshevism afterward developed.
Germany paralysed Russia with that ankylosis
which was to make her wolfishly hideous and
rid her of religion, commerce, money and sense.
But the situation, highly problematic, has an-
other aspect which, shortly, will be considered.
Meanwhile, gangrened already, Russia fought.

Presently the Wilhelmstrasse, confronted by
collapse, floated offers of ambiguous peace. The
allies rejected them. Privately the Kaiser ap-
plied to his kinswoman, Alix of Hesse, grand-
daughter of Victoria, of whom he was grand-
son. In the service of a cousin and of Ger-
many, tlie Russian empress ordered a mas-
querade. The mask was famine. Russia beheld
that spectre, conjured, a jack-in-the-box, by a



234 1 ^ e Irnperial Orgy

woman. There was food in plenty, only it was
hidden. The famine was bogus, hence the dis-
guise.

The Duma lifted it. Behind, was the tsaritsa.
Behind her were the court reactionaries. Be-
hind them was the prefect of police. All were
evoking the spectre, inciting riots, serving Ger-
many, engineering a separate peace.

The Duma informed the tsar. For reply,
the tsar ukased the Duma out. The Duma ig-
nored the ukase. Ignored it! Any former tsar
would have had every canaille in the assembly
first knouted, then dispatched. But formerly
there were two Russias; one above, the other
below; one, the tsar; the other, the nation. With
a sleight-of-hand unparalleled and incompara-
ble, the Duma transposed them.

Nikolai Alexandrovitch was then at military
headquarters. He started for Petrograd. On
the train he was the autocrat from whom every-
thing emanated, emperor of All the Russias,
viceroy of the Divine, sovereign of a hundred
races, lord of myriad hosts, an anthropomorphic
god. When he alighted, he was the perception
of a perceiver, a bundle of nothing who ceased
shortly to be even that.

"Omnia fui, nihil prod est," said an expiring
Caesar, whom this final Caesar might have mim-



The Whirlwind 235

micked. Might have, yes. He lacked the wit.

Over Russia, then, night still hung. Beyond
was a dawn that was to send that night reeling
back into the enigma of history from which
Russia had come. The night was basaltic. The
dawn was livid. In search of one like it, as-
tronomers will have to look in the astral. It
was the 4 awn of primitive man. From the
night of an ended orgy, Russia, livid as that
dawn, lapsed back to the stone age.

History has no parallel for the relapse. But
the benefits of a very liberal education had made
Russia a saint and a savage, a millionaire in rags,
a genius without culture, an entity to whom
meum and tuum were transposable abstractions,
and which produced a type that fused idealism
and knavery, the spiritual and the brute, super-
stition and intelligence, a type that craving an-
archy endured absolutism and which resulted in
what the world had never seen, a nation attacked
by hydrophobia.

Hydrophobia is excessive, yet, when a shadow
alighted from a train, a page of history turned,
the great book of autocracy closed, and with a
crash so loud that the noise shook down a prison's
walls. A hundred and eighty million ignorant,
helpless, hungry, angry, innocent prisoners
found that they were free.



236 The Imperial Orgy

Dumbly, as prisoners will, they had dreamed
of freedom. Impotently, as prisoners do, they
had struggled for it. But in the dream, they
had no belief; in the struggle, no conviction. It
was all too Utopian. When, suddenly, over-
night, without conscious effort, Utopia stretched
before them, it set them mad. What had seemed
Utopian became bedlam.

Madmen have a point of view which, when
considered, is always interesting. The idea of
these insane children, of some of them at least,
was to destroy everything, destroy the world,
build it anew. The idea seems insane, but seen
from an angle higher than our own, may not the
world need refurbishing? In occult sanctuaries
where causes appear and criticism vanishes, so-
vietism is viewed as a supernormal phenomenon,
propelled from planes where events are mar-
shalled, and designed to be the obstetricy of uni-
versal palingenesis. If the view is correct noth-
ing can prevail against it. But it may not be
correct. In convulsive accouchements Greece
tried to save her soul and lost her independence.
Similarly, Rome dissolved from a republic into
an empire and France saw the royal lilies change
into imperial bees. Scepticism is history's bed-
fellow. History doubts that Russia's travail will
be less abortive, though philosophy believes that



The Whirlwind 237

it may be a boon. For assuming that bolshevism
proceeds from a supermundane impulsion, the
design may be to provide the world in general
and communism in particular with an object
lesson in the slavery and rationed misery that
constitute the triumph of soviet ideals. Unfor-
tunately, an age of enlightenment has never
dawned for the proletariat and from philosophy
clairvoyance has been withheld.

Yet when Germany launched her holy cru-
sade, a chela admonished: — "Watch Russia!
Great things will come from there."

What are these things? The Lords of Karma
alone can tell. But Muhammad is suggestive.
The Prophet said that paradise lies in the
shadow of swords. Muhammad was pleasantly
figurative and so are the swords. But, to reach
paradise, always there is a desert to cross, a
desert swept by simooms, peopled with djinns.
The Lords of Karma alone can tell what si-
mooms await humanity.



New York, June, JQ20.





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Online LibraryEdgar SaltusThe imperial orgy, an account of the tsars from the first to the last → online text (page 12 of 12)