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Resembling no one, intellectually blind and
yet intelligent; archroyal and very low, this
brute whom fate made despot, destiny made seer.
In the nation a force dumb, obscure, but latent,
was to elevate it from an insignificant satrapy
into an empire wider than the moon at its full.
That force recognised itself first in Peter. In
the chaos about him, he foresaw the imperial-
ism to be.

The future imperialism is not obvious in the
butcher. But it appears in the ogre who dragged
from Europe long tatters of her civilisation and
forced them down Russia's throat. The ogre
will enter in a moment. A soldier comes first.

In Sweden, at that time, stood Charles XII.,




PET] R I III < IRE \f



Peter the Great 6l

a man of bronze, a monarch whose kingdom was
not of this world, whose palace was the battle-
field and who dressed in war's rich livery of
blood. He had overturned the throne of Po-
land. He proposed to demolish Peter's, dictate
terms in the Kreml and, from there, take on the
sanguinary and gorgeous East.

He started for Moscow, moving via the
Ukraine and Byron's Mazeppa— Hugo's Ma-
zeppa also, Pushkin's as well. It is from a
paragraph in Voltaire's Hlstoire de Russte that
Byron and Hugo evolved their hero who was
a hero, to credulous women, and also to a man
who was not credulous at all.

Peter believed in Mazeppa. He trusted him,
counted on his Cossacks and believed, trusted
and counted in vain. When Charles appeared,
Mazeppa joined him, a treachery that history
damned and poetry absolved. Together they
marched on Peter, beating him on the way so
thoroughly that Peter laughed. It was a les-
son. He enjoyed it. "The devils will teach
me to beat them," he shouted and laughed
again. The laugh rang true.

Presently Charles was at Pultowa, the siege
of which a grave historian has stated — and stated
too in that language which only grave historians
employ — "he hotly pressed. " The description



62 The Imperial Orgy

is pleasant. The cold was such that crows fell
dead. Charles wounded there and delirious
from the wound, called to Turks who never
heard, to Poles who never came.

Peter did both and so effectively that Charles,
delirious still, was carted away, carted afar,
carted into obscurity where he died as he had
lived, as Roland lived and died, clasping his
sole mistress, his sword.

Peter, who had learned his lesson and who
had routed what he had not destroyed, sent for
the officers taken prisoner.

"Where is your viking?" he asked them.
"Where is my brother Charles?

"Keep your swords," he added, "and let me
see if you can keep your heads."

That night he got drunk with them, but, more
potent than brandy, was the fact that triumph-
antly he had entered the drama of the world.

Pultowa has its date. That date marks an
era. Muscovy, hitherto held down by Swedes,
by Poles, by Tatars and Turks, was ready for
them all. Heretofore her history had been one
long humiliation. At Pultowa she came of age.
To celebrate it, Petersburg leaped into being.

A moment before Peter had asked: — "Where
are my legions?"

Moscow answered. Moscow pointed to a



Peter the Great 63

long, double hedge of skulls gibbeted there to
remind Russia of the disadvantages of conspir-
ing against him. In Moscow he had massacred
an armyi

The troops since recruited were untrained,
unfit. They were sheep. He turned away. In
turning he scattered invitations afar. Tacticians,
drill-sergeants, professors of the art of war, the
surgeons of her clinic, became his guests. Pres-
ently, turning back to the sheep, he operated a
transfusion. He put blood in them, mettle, his
own instinct for destruction. Pultowa was the
result and with it a tripled realm, balconies that
overlooked the seas, a proscenium box on Eu-
rope, the dominion of the north.

Waliszewski, who has written very passion-
ately about him, says that he had an idea a day.
For a genius that is meagre; for a monarch it
is magnificent; for a Muscovite a miracle. Per-
haps Waliszewski exaggerated. Besides, opin-
ions vary as to what constitutes an idea. But
the gorilla had brains. With them he substi-
tuted himself for time. The labour of centuries
he effected in years. He tossed the state up, as
skyscrapers arc tossed, one storey quick on the
other. From the jimcrack Russia has suffered
ever since. Yet his business was not with the
future. It was with the past which was then



64 The Imperial Orgy

the present, which stuck its tongue at him and
which he pulled as he pulled teeth.

It was singular and easy. The creature was
a crowned anarchist. More technically, he was
an autocrat, which means the same thing. An
anarchist wants to do as he likes. An autocrat
can — or could. Peter could. 'He had merely to
w T ill and his will was law. He willed that what
he thought, all must think: that what he did,
all must do. He willed that Russia should
dance to his piping, dress to his taste, play the
clown, abolish her customs, assassinate her ideals,
abjure her gods. He so willed because such
was his pleasure. When that pleasure was not
gratified instantly, were there misunderstand-
ing, weakness, fatigue, the axe!

The Russian year began September 1st. It
began then because on that day, 5508 B.C., God
created the world. Nothing could be more au-
thentic. To celebrate the event, everybody fud-
dled and fought. But nobody smoked. To-
bacco was heathen. Nobody danced. In the as-
cetic orthodoxy of the Russian Church, gaiety
was sinful, instrumental music forbidden, learn-
ing was damned and ignorance blessed.

Men still wore the long, flowing robes of the
East. What women wore is immaterial. When
serfs, they were soulless. They did not exist.



Peter the Great 65

Women of the upper class did not appear. Shut
away in oriental seclusion, they were invisible.
But all men were longly robed and all were
bearded. They had to be. In the sacred icon-
ography, Father and Son were bearded and
robed. Man, made after the image of God,
must be like unto Him. Any dissimilarity was
sacrilege.

That sacrilege Peter commanded. In a ukase
written with the knout, beards and robes were
ordered off, the women were ordered out. Mod-
els of what all were to wear and which those
who did not wear got the knout until they did,
hung in the Red Square. Prior to the knout,
robes were torn off at the waist; beards were
torn out by the roots. Incidentally men were
ordered to smoke. They were ordered to revise
their calendar. The year no longer began in the
autumn, as it had begun, or in the spring, as it
should begin, but after the absurd Roman fash :
ion which Europe had adopted.

With edicts and the lash, the year was re-
vised. Men were shaved, redressed, a pipe was
stuck in their mouth, and the beauties of their
household were ordered into society in a land
in which there was none, had been none rather,
for Peter created ballrooms with a ukase. The
boiars were pronunciamentoed into entertain-



66 The Imperial Orgy

ing. They were told what to do, what not to
do, the days and the hours for it.

No gambling, but dancing was rigorously re-
quired. As nobody knew how to dance, Peter
personally gave lessons, instructing the sullen
beauties that, for the go of it, they must kiss
their partners. To encourage them, he ladled
brandy in wooden spoons, not forgetting to help
himself, becoming in the process as drunk as
the ladies, if possible drunker, teaching them
not merely the pas de quoi, but the elegancies
of deportment and the pomps of etiquette.

Rudiments followed. The bear, taught to
dance, was taught to read. He was given an
alphabet, partly Greek, partly Bulgarian, which
Cyrillus had supplied, which Peter refashioned
and which seven-tenths of Russia have not yet
acquired. Subsequent autocrats objected to its
dissemination. A little learning is a dangerous
thing and a lot of it may be revolutionary. Cath-
erine the Greater said that if the inmates of her
little household — Russia was her little house-
hold — knew how to read, they would write her
ofT. Sensible woman. But she had seen the
French Revolution, which to Peter was unim-
agined. It becomes therefore rather instructive
to watch him reaching down into mediaeval
dungeons, pulling the prisoners into a modern



Peter the Great 67

reformatory, bundling them out of their ideals
into his, kicking over the past with one seven-
leagued boot, projecting them into the future
with the other, tossing them into the mould
from which contemporaneous Russia with her
colossal corruption and volcanic anarchy pro-
ceeded.

For university, Russia had the scaffold; for
curriculum, the knout. These things instruct.
They teach the aesthetics of servility, hypocrisy,
smothered hatred and bursting bombs. But not
morals. Peter, devoid of any as an orang-
outang, saw no reason for them. He may have
been right. Mathematics know nothing of
morals. Political economy is not interested in
them. Art ignores them. They are not a prin-
ciple of civilisation. It was not for lack of them
that Rome fell. What sapped her was malaria.
Morals are a luxury and Peter in his catarrhine
ignorance was unaware that the luxuries of life
are its necessities. He wanted the superficial
and the veneered. The tears he sowed to get
them, tsardom reaped.

To Waliszewski, he was the noblest Roman
of them all. He may readily have been that
and remain the perfectly ignoble brute that he
was to his pigmies, for whom, very thanklessly,



68 The Imperial Orgy

he strung balconies from which they could look
at Europe and Europe could look at them.

To enhance the view, abruptly, on the Neva
— a Tatar word that means mud — there was
built, at the cost of two hundred thousand lives,
the lives of serfs converted into masons and har-
ried there to death, the town of Petersburg, vast
and boreal, where art congealed into tasteless
edifices, dreary palaces, empty streets; a city
with a heart of stone, a plaster body and ex-
tremities of rotten wood.

In Petersburg, Peter made himself emperor,
made himself pontifex maximus. Asiatic abso-
lutism, crowned long since, then was mitred.
The patriarch had died. Assembled prelates
asked him to appoint a successor. "I have,"
he told them. "I have appointed myself." Lord
temporal, lord spiritual, the Antichrist was pope.
Besides, why not? The Russias, all of them,
everything and everybody in them, were as thor-
oughly his as the coat on his back. "I will give
Russia to whom I see fit," the grandfather of
the terrible Ivan unselfishly said. Peter would
not merely have said it, he would have done it.
He lacked the time. A laundress, handed by a
pastrycook, stepped into his shoes.

Louis Napoleon married the granddaughter of
a publican. Petrus Maximus married the



Peter the Great 69

daughter of a serf. After the manner of an
emperor who is above the law, he married her
without becoming divorced from a princess,
Eudoxia Lapoukhin, already his wife. In the
story of the princess there is drama. In the
story of the empress there is myth.

The property of a trooper, she passed side-
wise and upward to Peter who, for her imme-
diate favours, gave her a ducat. A ducat to
the trull to whom he afterward gave a crown!
At the time, she had no name. Peter, in addi-
tion to the ducat, gave her one. He called her
Katinka, also Katierinouchka, a tender diminu-
tive which history severely revised. Histori-
cally, she became Catherine I.

In her spiral ascent she reached Menchikov,
an ex-pastrycook whom Peter had picked up in
the street. Peter made him his mignon, then
his minister. When Peter was afar, Menchikov
ruled for him. When he was farther, Menchi-
kov ruled alone. Tt was he who gratified Peter
with the lady of the ducat and the crown.

The Margravine of Baireuth, who saw her,
said she was short, huddled, tanned, completely
lacking in looks, dignity, grace; dressed in a
gown covered with dirt and embroidery, and
so tricked out with medals, necklaces, gewgaws,
that she jingled like a mule.



;o The Imperial Orgy

She had her charms though, a trooper's thirst,
the ability to carry her liquor like a boiar and
a skill, which no trainer has acquired, the art of
taming a gorilla. In her hands a madman was
putty. Peter in a rage was a fiend in a fury.
Katinka cajoled, commanded and calmed the
brute. She lulled him to sleep. When he awoke
the access had passed. So are beasts and despots
won.

But not detained. Peter had a nostalgia for
mud, a homesickness which Katinka shared.
Any woman, provided she were ugly and a slat-
tern, could win him and Katinka, empress and
entremetteuse, saw to it that he was supplied,
not neglecting to provide for her own amuse-
ments, gaieties at which Peter did not even shrug
his shoulders, except once.

The man, a good-looking young fellow,
brother of one of Peter's light o' loves, was
chamberlain in Katinka's suite. The position
involved duties, among others that of listening
to her. In listening, he replied. The conver-
sation was overheard and Peter informed. Ordi-
narily, the information would not have interested
him, but the anonymous letter which conveyed
it, stated that the two were conspiring against
his life.

The gorilla sprang at the chamberlain who,



Peter the Great 71

at sight of him, fainted. When he recovered,
Peter had also. Considerately, sympathetically,
with a show of deep affection, Peter assured him
that he was sorry, very sorry, but he would have
to have him killed.

The theatre was prepared. The avid crowd
assembled. Peter took Katinka to see the show.
They went there in a sleigh. The day was polar
but clear. Katinka remarked about it. That
was all. But on her console that night, she
found her lover's head.

What turpitudinous, or merely horrible re-
prisals he meditated for her, one may surmise
and never know. Death, whom he had so con-
tinuously beckoned for others, took him by the
ear. Et ainsi finit l'histoire de Barbe-Bleue.

That was when Katinka was empress. An-
teriorly she had children, two in particular, Ann
and Elisabeth, one of whom reigned over happy
and holy Russia. But Eudoxia the Forsaken,
also had a child, Alexis the tsarevitch.

Peter hated them both. They represented the
past. By way of contrast, Katinka was the New
Woman whom Peter, without going far but low,
had found and finding made empress. The
paradox of the performance was its inducement.
In its vulgarity was its charm. Peter had an-



72 The Imperial Orgy

other in reserve that was to eclipse it, but only
in horror.

To approach the latter adequately requires a
nearer understanding of Katinka's primitive
soul. The slatterns with whom Peter amused
himself meant nothing to her. But Eudoxia
was very offensive. Eudoxia was noble, she was
tsaritsa, she was a saint, or, if not a saint, in the
convent where Peter had put her, she resembled
one. The insolence of it! A bucket of mud!
The bucket was raised, the mud was thrown.
Katinka fastened a lover and a conspiracy on her.

The conspiracy was a plot to seize the throne,
put the tsarevitch there and abolish the reforms.
It was highly imaginative. None the less Eu-
doxia admitted it, admitted the lover, admitted
everything. Beforehand she was knouted. Un-
der the knout even a saint may admit no mat-
ter what. Glebov, the lover, an officer and a
gentleman, denied everything. The rack could
extract nothing from him. On the other hand,
a dozen convent nuns said whatever the lash told
them to say. The evidence was complete.

Eudoxia was sent to another convent and Gle-
bov to the theatre. At the four corners of the
stage were amputated heads. About it were fifty
corpses. There Glebov was impaled. On that
day the cold was extreme. In order that he



Peter the Great 73

might endure the torture as long as possible,
he was bundled in furs. During it, Peter gloat-
ingly approached. Glebov spat in his face.

Previously a drama occurred that has never
been properly told and now never can be. The
proper telling would require the collaboration
of iEschylus and Michelet. Here, in cobweb,
is the outline.

From the circles of terror that Peter radiated,
Alexis shrank. Otherwise, brains and energy
deducted, he was Peter's son. His tastes were
low. He liked drink and common women.
Apart from that, he was inoffensive and, after
the manner of the inoffensive, he was ineffective.

Peter always effective and equally offensive,
eyed him. What would become of the throne
and Russia when both were his? To sit on a
throne cannot be difficult. To remain there pre-
supposes strength. Alexis had none. To sup-
ply it, Peter bullied him as he bullied every-
body, frightened him as he frightened all. He
draped the boy from palace to shambles, from
a honeymoon to war. In the same manner that
he had put mettle into sheep, he tried to put
force into dough. Failing, he exhorted. Fail-
ing in that, he threatened. Again he failed. The
hoy had gone.

The year before he had married a German



74 The Imperial Orgy

girl. The marriage was a precedent. Every
Russian sovereign, except the third Alexander,
who married a Dane, followed that lamentable
example. The girl whom Alexis married was
Charlotte of Wolfenbuttel. Her sister, wife
of the Austrian emperor, was the mother of a
girl, afterward Maria Theresa. Charlotte be-
came the mother of a son, afterward Peter II.
It is said that just before the latter's birth, Alexis
kicked her. It may be true. Peter's court was
a morgue. The amenities were not observed
there. But the classics were taught. One
learned how to suffer and how, too, to disappear.
Charlotte died and was buried. Or so at least
it was announced.

Charlotte lacked beauty. Instead she had the
sentimental form of German sentiment which
was later known as schwarmerei. An officer
tapped at her heart. The green savannahs of
the south, the bayous of Louisiana, called and
beckoned. They got away, went there, loved
there, lived there, left there to go their separate
paths, one of which led Charlotte to Paris, where
she lived on an allowance served to her by her
niece, Maria Theresa.

After Charlotte's death, the Varietes pro-
duced a play of which she was the heroine. It
was called Madame Peterhof. The play an-



Peter the Great 75

noyed Catherine the Greater. Severely she re-
marked: — "Everybody knows that the princess
died here of consumption."

A French wit took it up. "Everybody knows
that your husband died of apoplexy."

Before Charlotte's fantasia began, Alexis had
left her. He fled from the morgue in disguise.
Years earlier, Peter had also fled in disguise.
He fled to escape his ignorance. Alexis fled to
escape that ignorance which still persisting made
Peter blind to the fact that, potent though he
were, for the power he misused he would render
account, not to a recording angel perhaps, but
to himself. In Avitchi, the plane that the very
vile enter when they have passed from here, the
penalty of the damned consists in beholding
what they have done. Here they may have
lacked a conscience, they acquire one there; ac-
qui re, it may be, two of them. If there is a word
of truth in what occultism tells of that plane,
Peter must have acquired three consciences, six,
a dozen. He needed them all.

At the time he had none whatever. Katinka
had none either, but she had just had a child.
Maternity prompting, she prompted Peter.
Alexis was invited to become a monk. Alexis
agreed. He had to agree. He had no choice.
But then the cowl is not nailed to the head.



76 The Imperial Or^ r y

Peter gone, he could discard it, ascend the throne
and abolish the reforms. The reforms meant
little to Katinka, but the throne meant all. It
was in these circumstances that she fastened on
Eudoxia a conspiracy which involved Alexis.
Peter would have killed him. Before he could,
Alexis had gone.

At once the magic circles of terror expanded.
Peter was seeking him, willing him back.

Furtively the boy crouched and scurried.
With him, crouching and scurrying also, was an-
other boy whom he called his page. The de-
scription shows imagination. The boy was a
girl and a serf wtiom he had garnered, as Peter
gathered Katinka, on the backstairs of life. Her
name was Euphrosine. She was a Finn and
looked it. She had the expression, slightly best-
ial, that Finns display. Alexis loved her. The
little animal enraptured this lad in whose life
raptures had been scant. Together they got
down to Vienna where they hid and dreamed.
But that is an exaggeration. Alexis dreamed
dreams which Euphrosine dreamed for him —
Peter dead, the abolition of the reforms, Alexis
tsar, Euphrosine empress!

As for that final touch, why not? What had
Katinka been? Longly the boy discussed the
dreams which, ambrosia to her, were nectar to



Peter the Great 77

him, but on her account only. Left to himself,
his dream would have been a country boiar's ex-
istence, quiet, sensual, drunken.

But the flaming circles were contracting and
they fled again, this time to Naples where Peter's
huntsmen, who for a year and a day had been
stalking, quarried them. The shudder that
shook Alexis then was iEschylean. Yet how
needlessly! There was a letter, very reassuring,
from' Peter. Alexis had only to return ; every-
thing would be forgiven, his father's tenderness
restored.

Peter added: — "If you refuse, I, as your
father, will curse you and, as your sovereign,
condemn."

On reaching Vienna, Alexis had gone to the
emperor. Charles VI. was his brother-in-law.
The tenuous bond appealed. Charles promised
to look after him and, when Alexis fled to Na-
ples, he told the viceroy there to have an eye on
him also. But Peter, who knew what he wanted
and knew, too, how to get it, was massing troops.
The viceroy did not want war, 'nor did Charles.
When Alexis in his terror invoked the one, then
the other, they threw him to the dogs. Alexis
might still have escaped. But Euphrosine who
expected to be another Katinka and to replace



78 The Imperial Orgy

her, persuaded him to bargain that Peter should
consent to their marriage.

Tenderly Peter yielded. Only, in view of
tsaral customs and Alexis' rank, the marriage
must be solemnised in Moscow.

Off then they went under guard of that tender
father's huntsmen, a guard that, for Alexis at
least, was never relaxed until that tender father's
will was done.

In Moscow, in the great hall where the terri-
ble Ivan throned, the terrific Peter questioned.
Alexis, shaken and swooning, had nothing'to say
except that he was a devoted son. It was a lie,
one which, no doubt, the Lords of Karma remit-
ted.

Then came the turn of Euphrosine, a chance
for the antique virtues, the display of Cornelian
traits. Not a bit of it. The little trull, whose
ambitions had been privately disabused, un-
wound the thread of her lover's dreams — tsar-
dom and the reforms abolished!

Face to face with Alexis, eye to eye as it is
expressed in the Muscovite code, she was sen-
tencing him to death. He knew it, yet more pro-
foundly afflicted by the treachery of the creature
whom he still adored than by any torture that
his father could inflict, he collapsed.

Peter was most gracious to the skirted Judas.



Peter the Great 79

He gave her a dowry and married her to an offi-
cer with whom, it is said, she lived very happily.

In the eyes of gods that see and foresee, Alexis
fared better. He was murdered.

On that day the stage was bare. The usual
properties, the red carpet, the black draperies,
the knout, the rack, the knife, the block, the axe,
these things w r ere absent. The theatre was clos-
ed. The blood of kings is sacred. A tsarevitch
could not be butchered to 'make a Russian holi-
day.

In a cellar beneath a cellar, a pillared vault
lit by torches that were sometimes human, Alexis
was beaten into insensibility, drenched with
salted water, revived, beaten again, longly torn,
considerably burned, killed thoroughly.

Peter, twitching neurotically, biting and
moistening his lips, heard his son's shrieks,
watched him die. Whether he delivered the
usual post-mortem lecture, history does not say.
What she does say is that on the morrow, which
was the anniversary of Pultowa, he laughed,
danced and made merry.

Nero killed his mother. Her crime was in
giving him birth. But, monster though he were,
the monstrosity of his own crime haunted him.
Ivan who, in monstrosity, was his equal, killed
his son and wept. Alessandro Borgia, their peer,



80 The Imperial Orgy

assembled the consistory, beat his breast, vomited
his incests, purged, or tried to purge, his hide-


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