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ous soul. Peter, more monstrous than those
three monsters, killed his son and made merry.
But that is not his epitaph.

In his contempt of every decency, in the edicts
with which he changed the status of things, in his
obliteration of national customs, he assassinated
the ideal. That is his epitaph.

In constructing, he undermined. In correct-
ing, he corrupted. Russia's rottenness proceed-
ed from his knout; her anarchy, from his auto-
cracy.

Peter garroted the past; already Ivan had
strangled the future — dual felonies that put Rus-
sia in a sociological fourth dimension, a plane
abnormal, apart, where lurked and brooded the
forces elemental that were to scatter the eagles,
destroy the state, startle the world.

Peter and Ivan were the obstetricians of anar-
chy's posthumous accouchement, though proba-
bly long before, on spheres beyond our ken, it
was pre-ordered that they should be. After
the manner of geological transformations that
seem cataclysmic but which are beneficent, prob-
ably they were the gestators of a Russia yet to
be.



IV

IMPERIAL SABLES

PETER knouted his wife, killed his son, be-
headed his mistress. He was a great man.
After the funeral, opera bouffe. On the
throne sat a laundress, put there by a pastrycook.

At no time, anywhere, except in Haiti, has
there been anything as impudent. From a Hai-
tian revolution a slave emerged emperor. The
slave was Soulouque. He could not read, he
could not write. But he could make his mark
and he did and a very dirty one. The laundress
was quite as scholarly. Balzac planned a play
about her and gave it up. It was too much for
him. Previously, Gretry presented her in an
opera. The colouring of the score was as suited
to her as a piano is to a kitchen. Perhaps only
Offenbach, who turned melody into a strumpet,
could have succeeded with her. In that case
and by comparison, the Grande Duchesse de
Gerolstein would be opera seria.

Peter's reign was a perpetual martyrology.
The reign of his widow was an uninterrupted de-

8l



82 The Imperial Orgy

bauch. The one modern parallel is Rabelais'
vastes lippees. Miraculously the empire per-
sisted, its might increased. In conditions prac-
tically identical the same phenomenon occurred
in Rome. But the circumstances of the Latin
miracle are clearer than the Slav. Russia lack-
ed what Rome possessed, a Suetonius to describe,
a Tacitus to judge. To fill the picture there is
little else than the dispatches of foreign legates.
In one of these dispatches the government is
called a chaos and the court a bordel.

Death in taking Peter by the ear, took him so
abruptly that he had no time to appoint a suc-
cessor. Legally, if the term had any meaning
and it had none, the indicated heir was his grand-
child, the son of the murdered Alexis, or, in de-
fault of the latter, an illegitimate daughter, or
else a more legitimate niece. The complica-
tions that these people subsequently effected
would be farcical were it not for the tragedies
that ensued. But after the good old Roman
fashion, in prevention of any complications and
while Peter was still rattling at death, Katinka
subventioned the pretorians. With the guards
behind her, the rest was easy and Menchikov,
who had superintended the subventioning, at-
tended to that.

Menchikov entered history from the gutter,



Imperial Sables 83

Katinka from a wash-tub. The daughter of Li-
vonian serfs, she was fat, coarse and a laundress.
During the siege of a tottering town, where she
practised her genteel vocation, she got (from
under the crashing walls and crawled in among
Peter's troopers. One of them took her, beat
her, turned her over to a sergeant, who passed
her up to a lieutenant, from whom she passed to
a captain. From him, on the escalator of fate,
she reached Menchikov, who gave her to Peter,
who gave her a ducat and added a crown.

Inconvenient preludes deducted, there, retold,
would be the tale of the darky beggar-maid and
the African king Cophetua, were it not that the
negress did not live to reign and the laundress
did.

Katinka, Peter called her, for he had to call
her something and she had no name of her own.
In spite of which and with no other imaginable
attraction than the manner in which she washed
soiled linen, this wench who had sprung from
the mud and who fell back there, became Cath-
erine I., Autocrat of All the Russias. There is
no parallel for that, even in mythology.

In an old print, Peter is shown, looking up
from a table covered with dishes and bottles,
while Menchikov leads the lady in. The pic-
ture is suggestive and probably exact. But Men-



84 The Imperial Orgy

chikov after leading her in did not back himself
out. For a year and a day she remained the
property of both.

There is no immaculate history. If there
were it would relate to a better world. The
maculacy of these people exceeds the powers of
decent prose. None the less it has been a sub-
ject of wonder that an emperor could have gone
the extravagant length of marrying a laundress.
Perhaps the extravagance was the incentive. In
Peter's mind, and he had one, the marriage may
have served to convey the expression of his su-
preme contempt for everybody and everything.
It is difficult to imagine how he could have made
it more emphatic. But apart from that snap of
the finger, there was another reason, one already
indicated and perhaps more profound. The de-
mon that he was she could transform into a
child. On his horrible soul she poured balm.

Behind the balm was a gold mine. In the
perpetual funeral that Peter conducted, she in-
terceded. At her prayers, penalties were remit-
ted. Those prayers she sold. For the interces-
sion she was paid. Boiars sentenced for a yes
or a no to the scaffold, sent her bags of coin.
Their pardon followed. The bags were many
and in time very useful. It was with them that



Imperial Sables 85

she subventioned the pretorians who, Peter gone,
secured for her the throne.

In these enterprises she was prompted and
aided by Menchikov who, like her, could neither
read nor write. He was otherwise educated. In
the hard school of a harsh court, and previously
in the training camp that the gutter is, he had
learned how to want and, what is superior, how
to get what he wanted. Originally apprentice
in a sweetshop, Peter picked him up in the
street, debauched him and, afterward, made him
prince of the empire, a Slav grandee with titles
by the yard, lord of domains of which the enum-
eration would fill a page.

The meal was insufficient. His appetite grew
as he ate. A rapacious brute with a strapping
figure and a bold and fumbling eye, he wanted
the throne and got it; nearly, that is, for Peter
gone he was practically tsar and, when Katinka
had followed her gorilla, he was regent. Nor
was that enough and reasonably perhaps since
regency is not heritable or even permanent.
Katinka's successor was Peter's grandson, then a
boy, and that boy he determined should marry
his daughter. Meanwhile he filled his pockets,
already replete, stuffing them with gigantic con-
fiscations, becoming in the process despotic as
Peter, greedy as Ivan, with — what unfortunately



86 The Imperial Orgy

both of them missed — destitution for climax and
Siberia for finale. But no, that was not the end.
After being prince, generalissimo, regent, the
scoundrel became sublime. Despoiled, de-
graded and in chains, he grew fatl

Prior to that astounding coup de maitre, and
immediately after he had placed his chattel on
the throne, it was his custom to go to her, before
she was up, and ceremoniously salute her.

"Ouray, Katinka! What shall we drink?"

The question decided, he fuddled with her
and whomever she had at her side. Generally,
the third party was some one whom he had never
seen, or she either, until the day before. The
high and puissant lady held reviews that she
might make her choice. Always exclusive,
usually she was drunk. Her reign, in conse-
quence, while not brilliant historically, socially
was delightful. It established a precedent
which her immediate successors scrupulously
observed.

Among these was her daughter, Elisabeth.
Waliszewski said that, in following her mother's
example, she used her own bed as spring-board
to the throne. Apparently that is true. A regi-
ment of her lovers put her there. But that was
after she had already refused it and for a reason
delicate, perhaps, but commendable. At the



Imperial Sables 87

time, a poet compared her to a goddess on a
cloud. The comparison will be presently ex-
amined. The only comparison that could fit
her mother would be one that likened her to a
scullion on a dais. The woman was nothing else
and to her credit did not pretend to be. With
no fear of another severed head confronting her,
gluttonously she reassembled and wallowed in
the mud from which she had sprung.

At fifty, her health ruined by the cups of dirt
and vodka of which avidly she drank the deeper
as her strength decreased, it became obvious that
she would soon rejoin her gorilla and it was in
these circumstances that the succession was of-
fered to Elisabeth who, for a reason that will be
recited, refused.

There remained her sister, who had married
a Holsteiner that nobody wanted and whom
everyone got, later on that is, in the shape of his
whelp, an ignoble poodle, husband of Catherine
the Greater. But meanwhile and additionally
there was the son of the murdered Alexis, an
agreeable lad with an agreeable minority ahead
of him. Katinka appointed him tsar, with Men-
chikov for regent.

The lad's style and title was Peter II. Apart
from the title, his style was good. He said, or
was said to have said, that Vespasian would be



88 The Imperial Orgy

his model, that no one should leave his presence
depressed.

Wide-eyed, Petersburg commented and mar-
velled. Centuries earlier, the astonishment of
Rome had been as vast. Behind Vespasian
stretched a line of imperators that dispensed
death as readily as Ivan and Peter. But they
dispensed it with an urbanity which Muscovy
never knew. Greece humanised the Caesars,
Tartary brutalised the tsars. The Caesars in-
vited men to die. The invitation was civil. It
put the recipient at his ease. It left him free
to choose whatever death displeased him least.
Occasionally, to fatten fish, a slave was tossed in
a pond. To flatter the plebs, occasionally a sen-
ator was thrown in the arena. Now and then a
seer might be punished as Epictetus was, by hav-
ing a leg broken. But to a Roman citizen, tor-
ture was never applied. Rome assimilated
many an orientalism but not that, and it was in
that that the tsars exceeded the Caesars.

Petersburg marvelled consequently at the
young emperor's benignity which, however, did
not extend to Menchikov.

Menchikov was his master, his task-master,
his ruler, his regent, his autocrat, precisely as he
was despot of all the Russias. The tyranny of
it irked the young tsar, already embarrassed by



Imperial Sables 89

Menchikov's daughter, a young woman with the
cold eyes of a ghoul. At the time, Menchikov
was decorating the streets with columns topped
with spikes. On the spikes were heads. From
the columns rotting corpses hung.

Peter II. ordered them removed. With that
gesture he asserted himself. With the columns,
Menchikov fell. Convicted of counterfeiting
and embezzlement, petty felonies on a grand
scale that he must have committed for practise
merely, from the apex of power, from the sum-
mit of wealth, without one thing to his name,
except the clothes on his back and the chains
on his feet, he went to the great white house of
the dead that Siberia was and where, superior
to destiny, his girth increased. That was su-
perb. He was otherwise magnificent. Already
he had founded a line, unique in history, a race
of male Pompadours.

Petersburg, savage but timorous, relished the
tyrant's vast degringolage and savoured the
young emperor's promise.

The first to remind him of it was his aunt,
Elisabeth. Waliszewski says that she marred
the lad's ingenuousness. Another Cherubino
one might think. But the melodious problem,
Che cosa e amor? he had already investigated.
More Valois than Romanov, he was a Muscovite



QO The Imperial Orgy

Henri III. He had all the feminisms of that
king who contrived to be queen. From his aunt
he learned nothing, except that love is a patholo-
gical condition, from which a tsarevna's con-
valescence may be immediate. Elisabeth, too
distrait to prolong the lesson, abandoned the lad,
who became engaged to a Dolgorouki girl, with
whose brother, Alexis, he had entered the her-
maphroditisms of Valois nights.

The Dolgoroukis were highly noble, so noble
that when, long later, Alexander II. married one
of the house, it was said, and very correctly, that
the princess was marrying beneath her. The
second Alexander was not a Romanov. The
tribe was then extinct. The last of the litter
was Elisabeth's daughter. But the Dolgoroukis
of this epoch were perhaps less fastidious than
they afterward became.

At the ceremonies of the betrothal, and very
gorgeous they are said to have been, a ghost ma-
terialised. The ghost was Eudoxia Lapoukhin,
Peter's first wife, whom he had knouted and
whose lover he impaled. From a convent where
ceaselessly she prayed, she came in the anti-
quated, barbaric and radiant robes of a Muscovy
tsaritsa. Psychic from long vigils and very
pale, this phantom of the past who, during the
reign of a trull, had been too lofty to descend,




I'l TER II



Imperial Sables 91

vacated the cloister, reappeared on earth, blessed
her grandson and silently, sadly, royally, her
glowing robes about her, drew back from before
a drama which, it may be, her psychic eyes fore-
saw.

The fiancee's immediate family consisted of
her father, her uncle, and her brother Alexis,
with whom she lived in a great palace and in
equal pomp. The girl had red hair, red lips,
a cameo profile, passionate and proud, but not
too proud. Those lips had met other lips and so
lingeringly that the result became apparent.

The inconvenience of the situation was com-
plicated by the boy tsar. At the time he was
living in the Dolgorouki residence. There he
developed typhoid. It was thought that he
would die and, what is worse, too soon.

An effort was made to hasten the marriage.
The boy was delirious. An attempt was made
to have him sign a ukase appointing the girl his
heir. The boy was unconscious. An expedient
which then suggested itself was to put the girl
in his bed and announce that he had honoured
her with his permission to be there, after having,
in his quality of pontifex maximus, performed
the marriage himself. There was still another
way, perhaps superior: since the lad could not
sign the ukase, why not sign it for him?



92 The Imperial Orgy

In the vast palace, in the dead of night, fever-
ishly these people turned from one plan to an-
other, uncertain how to act, certain only that if
they did not act and act immediately, the throne
was gone. In the jeopardy of that, the ukase
was signed and not a moment too soon. A min-
ute later the boy emperor was dead. It was the
girl's brother who signed the ukase. Dropping
the pen, he drew his sword and rushed out with
the cry, "Live the empress!"

The cry found no echo. The forgery was
never employed, though, through what conniv-
ance is uncertain, it was discovered. The dead
boy's betrothed went to Siberia. En route, a de-
mand was made for the engagement-ring.
Haughtily she extended her hand: — "Cut it off
and the finger with it."

Her brother went to the scaffold. There,
while his arms and legs were being broken, he
is represented as reciting a prayer, scanning each
word from beginning to end. The story is not
improbable. The same thing occurred in Lon-
don, at Smithfield, which Mary Tudor turned
into a Plaza Mayor and where she exceeded the
Inquisition.

Meanwhile, the nightmare throne was vacant.
Official caretakers dusted it and wondered about
the next occupant. In wondering, they thought



Imperial Sables 93

of Peter's nieces, the daughters of his brother
Ivan.

Ivan had no daughters. Always less than half
a man and never more than half a sovereign,
when Peter shoved him aside, he wandered, a
lost soul, into the country where he lived dis-
mally, in shabby state and where his wife had
two children, both girls, neither of whom was
his, yet who, none the less, were born in wedlock,
a formality which Peter, in regard to his own
daughters, had imperially omitted. The more
legitimate nieces remained. One had married
the duke of Courland; the other a Mecklenburg
prince. This other will appear in a moment.
The Courlander comes first.

Pink, fat, large and greasy, she was familiarly
known as Big Nan, except to Carlyle who, with
easy humour, called her a Westphalia ham. Her
husband died the day after the wedding, not of
delight, but of the nuptial feast, during which
he gorged and gulped gargantually. For after-
course there were pastries, from which nude pig-
mies sprang and danced, an entertainment that
may have excited his further and fatal efforts.

Big Nan survived and became empress, a role
which the world has generously forgotten. But
also she became a figure in a romance which the
stage recalls.



94 The Imperial Orgy

Nan's minor part occurred at Mittau, the cap-
ital of Courland where, as duchess, she held
court. It is said that she never bathed. In her
day, Russian women of position washed in de-
coctions of roots mixed with brandy which after-
ward they drank. It is said of this lady that she
preferred melted butter. It is also said that
she had a negligent cook hanged where she could
watch his last wriggles. At table, her women
were beaten before her. Their screams gave
her an appetite.

At Mittau, she had other distractions. She
liked gossip and tales of brigands. These at an
end, she turned to her chamberlain, whose wife
discreetly retired.

The chamberlain, Biihren, who afterward var-
iously mutilated, exiled and killed over a hun-
dred thousand people, was a German. Previ-
ously there had been another German and it was
intermediately that a romance occurred on
which Scribe built a play in which Rachel ap-
peared, not as Big Nan, but as Adrienne de Le-
couvreur, actress and chere amie of Maurice de
Saxe.

Men do not dream any more as that man lived.
The son of Augustus of Poland and of Aurore
of Koenigsmarck, he became marshal of France,
fought on every battlefield and posthumously in



Imperial Sables 95

that of letters. George Sand was his descend-
ant. He had fought at Pultowa. He had
fought before, he fought again, in a series of
conflicts which amours and revels distended.
When he was dead, men sharpened their swords
on his tomb. When he lived, women contended
for him. Among these were the Duchesse de
Bouillon and Adrienne de Lecouvreur. In a
duel that they fought for him, the duchess pois-
oned the actress.

Mozart had not then appeared. Moliere had
and with him Don Juan. The latter pre-existed
the playwright. Protean, indefinite, eternal, the
oldest and the youngest man on earth, Maurice
de Saxe was one of his many avatars, perhaps
also an avatar of the Cid. Reprobate and pal-
adin, the story of his conquests, carried from one
metropolis of pleasure to another, reached
Petersburg and passed thence to Mittau, where,
a troop of henchmen at his heels, but always gal-
lant, he came to claim the duchy.

The sinews of the enterprise had been fur-
nished by Adrienne. It used to be said that a
gentleman may receive gifts only from his mis-
tress and his king. Adrienne, all in all for her
lover, sold her jewels, melted her plate. It was
on the proceeds that the beau sabreur appeared
at Mittau.



96 The Imperial Orgy

Immediately Big Nan was his. In addition,
he could have had the duchy. In addition to
the duchy he could have had an empire. Nan
wanted him to marry her. The duchy was in
his hand, the duchess in his arms, the empire in
her pocket. But not every one can sup on West-
phalia ham. A slice or two sufficed. Maurice
took to reading Don Quixote, a pastime in which
he was surprised by one of Nan's ladies.

At the time, the palace was dark. It was
darker when the surprise ended. Maurice un-
dertook to carry the lady to her own apartment.
On the way, a watchman saw them, saw rather
what he imagined was a two-headed ghost,
shrieked with fright and dropped his lantern.
Maurice kicked at the lantern, tried to extin-
guish it, slipped in the effort and fell with the
lady on the watchman who shrieked the louder.
A door opened. It was Nan's. She threw a
glance out, followed it and raised the lantern.
A page of history turned. It was in turning it
that Nan consoled herself with Biihren.

Biihren was the son of an ostler, a circum-
stance which elucidates a contemporary remark
that he talked to horses like a man and to men
like a horse. Otherwise he was of the Pompa-
dour lineage which, founded by Menchikov,
was to continue on to Potemkin. Casanova, who



Imperial Sables 97

met him, as he met everybody, says that he was
flnelooking. So is a vulture. Nan made him
duke, changed his name from Buhren to Biron
and, with enviable imagination, evolved a gene-
alogy that interrelated him with one of the first
families of France. When the head of that
family heard of it he laughed and asked: —
"What better name could the canaille have
chosen?" But all that was insufficient for this
German who could not speak Russian and still
less French.

Nan, at the time, was empress. Ignorant, in-
dolent and cruel, she resembled the serpent
painted by Raphael that had a woman's head.
Buhren had the head of a bird of prey. Other-
wise they were admirably mated. Both pos-
sessed that dangerous characteristic which stu-
pidity is. Nan, in creating him duke of Cour-
land, made him premier of Russia. But the
Menchikov lesson taught him nothing except
the impermanence of delegated power. By way
of insurance against the hazards of the morrow,
he conceived the easy expedient of marrying his
daughter to the Holstein whelp whom Catherine
the Greater afterward married and murdered.
But in his wheels there were spokes, put there
by Ostermann and Munnich, generals who had
come down from Peter, and who had plans of



98 The Imperial Orgy

their own concerning him and that daughter of
his, pleasant plans with Siberia among them.
Buhren, meanwhile, a Pompadour tsar, was
peopling that land, sending citizens there in
droves or, more expeditiously, to the scaffold.
The orgy appealed to him vastly.

The court then was charming. Under Peter
it had been a morgue. Under Katinka, an as-
signation house. Nan, with Buhren and his dis-
creet wife for managers, elevated it to the dig-
nity of a tap-room. "Here!" a chamberlain
called at an officer who neglected to get drunk.
"Don't you know that your conduct is insolent?
You are her majesty's guest."

In Peter's day the court was bare. In Katin-
ka's it was filthy. Under the Buhren manage-
ment it became an oriental cabaret, glittering
and tawdry.

On a throne in a great gaudy room, lolled
Frau Buhren, duchess of Courland. Hump-
backed and hideous, she was royal. The robe
she wore a couturier valued at a hundred thous-
and roubles. Her jewels were worth two mil-
lion. In lolling, she smiled and very fondly at
her children who, in their romps, threw ink
about. Let the darlings play! With whips they
lashed the boiars. Who ever saw such dears?

Adjacently were jesters, dwarfs, crippled



Imperial Sables 99

princes that played the clown, swarms of at-
tendants in all the costumes of all the Russias
and a greater swarm of Germans. The court
was German. The government was German.
The orgy was Teuton. Only the boiars con-
verted into clowns and cripples were Slav. But
clowns can think, cripples can hate. At the mo-
ment, with heads that shook, uncertain how long
they would own them, they knelt. Along the
walls, in gilded cages, were nightingales, larks,
canaries, thousands of them. From the door-
way, two generals peered and muttered.

In another room lay Big Nan. The tales of
brigands that she used to like, pleasured her no
longer. Biihren had made her live them. Be-
side her, the vulture perched. Nearby were
three other Germans, the prince and princess of
Brunswick and their child, a boy.

The princess, daughter of the duchess of
Mecklenburg, was Nan's niece. The boy was
next in line. In the drama of Russian history,
his history is unique. It must wait on the ro-
mance of his father and mother, an admirably


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