Leonie Ida Philipovna Souiny-Seydlitz.

Russia of yesterday and to-morrow online

. (page 7 of 17)
Online LibraryLeonie Ida Philipovna Souiny-SeydlitzRussia of yesterday and to-morrow → online text (page 7 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


details of life. She had her serfs, her devoted
servants, who feared and adored her as a kind
mother, considerate of her people's joys and sor-
rows. Between the harina and the peasant girls
who have been accustomed humbly to submit
themselves to the debauches of the harm grew a
tolerant, understanding sympathy, and she pro-
tected the women from the brutality and the
drunkenness of their own men.

When the Russian lady of to-day goes "home"
to her estate she drops all the artificial life of
travel and the social duties and restrictions of the
cities. She returns to the primitive sovereignty
of the hoyare woman. She is surrounded by a

141



RUSSIA OF YESTERDAY AND TO-MORROW

crowd of servants, male and female, serf-like in
their devotion. She maintains her own church,
in which services are held with great pomp, the
peasants standing in rows, caps in hand, and
bowing deeply to let the harina pass. She loves
her people, but she never takes the initiative in
educating them, although she knows exactly what
would be the right thing to do. She keeps them
illiterate, ignorant, unless her husband is one of
the progressives.

Through the whole womanhood of Russia there
runs the sincere simplicity and concealed force
with which Catharine, the peasant girl who
became the wife of Peter the Great, tamed her
man. He thundered, and she, childlike, hid her
face in her sleeves ; but with a twinkle in her eyes,
soft and devoted, with motherly patience, she
snuggled to the giant, and was absolutely certain
to bring him back to his senses.

The Russian woman is wonderfully womanly.
She is the most passionate lover, the most natural
bride, the most understanding companion, and
above all the best mother imaginable. She is the
real half of her man's life; she is an instrument
and a very powerful one, whether in the rank of

142



RUSSIAN LIFE AND POLITICS

a low official or among the forceful women who
were near the throne.

It was an open secret that the Countess I ,

with her fearless frankness and her practical
energy, brought many business deals to success-
ful conclusion. The American would say that
she is a very smart business woman to get things
done in Russia. She took neglected affairs out
of the desks of mischievous tchinowniks, where
they would have moldered for decades. She took
them out by force, and because the only force in
former Russia was fear, she used her influential
position with the court. It was often a blessing
that such a sound institution as the countess
existed near the sovereign, and it is to be regret-
ted that she was not made the president of a bank.
This noble woman of refinement and tradition
had the sparkling esprit of the grand dame, and
the Russian is far more a grand dame than all
other women have been, for she uses her intellect,
her eloquence, and despises the cheap and futile
stratagems of the courtezan.

Life is serious in Russia nowadays, and the
time has passed when women, like the lilies of the
field, are nourished and adorned. Perhaps it will

143



RUSSIA OF YESTERDAY AND TO-MORROW

be under the Countess I 's constructive power

that women will work in cooperation with men
and not as their competitors. Competition
between the sexes would never do in Russia, but
women could replace men until their little sons
were grown up, and able to take their tasks from
their mother's hands. Any help for the better-
ment of industries or government will be wel-
comed with enthusiasm, even though coming
through the mediation of a grand dame.

And Madame N , being so great an aristo-
crat that she does not need a title, for her ancestor
was the mother of Peter the Great, played
cleverly on the weakest side of the European
man, his vanity and his worship of titles and
decorations. She opened a gay little shop where
pretty titles and buttonhole jewels could be
bought. One can imagine what entertainment
the lady got out of the stupidities and ambitions
of the parvenus. The profits of this business
went to one of the charitable institutions under
the protection of the czarina dowager. Madame

N had in her stock the greatest assortment of

honors and orders, and the choice was merely a
matter of price. It is to be feared that, with the

14f4



RUSSIAN LIFE AND POLITICS

expulsion of the German element, the business
ceased to flourish, as the Russian gets his "Excel-
lency" anyway, and in most cases cheaper.

Near the throne, too, was the Countess K ,

and in the beginning of the war, the news trickled
through the dense tissue the censor had thrown
over Russia that she, one of the most interesting
women of the aristocracy, had been arrested.
Those who knew that she had formerly had the
principal political salon in Petrograd and that in
her white villa on the islands she had gathered the
diplomatic and political world hoped that her
arrest was founded on over-excitement. She was
not the woman to sell her country. In times of
peace everybody spoke about the amusing
intrigues of the white villa and the brilliant
countess, who was not only a perfect conversa-
tionahst, but had the political flair.

The diplomats had their secret wires in the cool,
white little villa. They received information
there, and perhaps sometimes acted on it. The
snake in this amusing and amused Eden was
Ambassador I , a former head of the min-
istry, and the rabbit was the German ambassador.

Everybody watched Ambassador I , who had

145



RUSSIA OF YESTERDAY AND TO-MORROW

a great appetite for swallowing the passive Ger-
man, and it was said that the Countess K

prepared the meal. Then she was working for
her own country, and her intrigue, even if justi-
fied, was naturally not very fair, because she
played on her intimate friendship with the Ger-
man ambassador.

However, the news of her imprisonment
sounded very serious, and one day the newspapers
published broadcast the information that the
countess had been court-martialed and shot. For
all those who had passed enchanting hours in her
white villa it seemed to emerge in memory, ghost-
like in the silvery clearness of the Russian early-
summer nights, when the sun set only for a short
misty dawn, to rise again in ardent splendor;
where men and women glided shadowlike over the
narrow paths among shrubberies and the young
birch-trees, which vibrated in the morning air,
and where have been whispered not ancient love-
sonnets, oh, no, but death-breathing state affairs.
And another picture of memory shows the

Countess K in her palace of the Sergev-

skaga, where she opened her doors for magnifi-
cent fetes, like the tales of a thousand-and-one

146



RUSSIAN LIFE AND POLITICS

nights, where the young imperial daughters and
the fervent young aristocrats danced to the soft
and warm melodies of Russian music.

The Countess K was not shot. From the

palaces of gaiety now sway the flags of the Red
Cross; the white nurses are the graceful dancers
of a httle while ago, and the poor suffering crip-
ples are their brilliant partners of the fantastic

fetes. The Countess K will never go back

to the old profession of breeding poison bacilli
from little hurt vanities, and developing them
into the frightfulness which now is killing youth
and happiness and beauty. Her participation in
dangerous plots led, under the new regime, to her
arrest from the Chinese embassy, where she was
hiding, and where the infuriated soldiers found
her and dragged her to prison.

Another palace on the Quai de la Noblesse
bears the flag of sadness; it is the home of the
Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, or the Grand
Duchess Vladimir.

She and the grand duke were once regarded as
the most worldly couple of the capital. He was
as beautiful as a young god, and she the most
admired woman, full of the joy of living. Their

147



RUSSIA OF YESTERDAY AND TO-MORROW

life was the eternal source of the gayest stories of
the chronique scandaleuse. Unforgetable are the
famous events of the Restaurant Ernest that
banished the grand duchess for one year from
the Russian court. The Troupe frangaise, very
much patronized by the imperial family, had its
season in the Michelsk Theater, and high society,
after the theater, had its supper parties at the
Restaurant Ernest in the historic chambres
separees. On a certain night the grand duke's
party was rather conventional, and the grand
duke himself was bored. The party grew more
and more silent, and involuntarily listened to the
increasing gaiety in the neighboring room. The
maitre d'hotel was asked about the laughing and
joyful party, which turned out to be the French
players. The grand duke ordered the door
opened, and, to the amazement of the actors, the
wide wings slipped aside, and they found them-
selves mingling with court society. The grand
duke, who had decided to enjoy the night, drank
more than court etiquette permitted, and forget-
ting his noble station, he put his arm around the
waist of the leading woman, the respectable wife
of the principal actor, and kissed her. Instantly

148



RUSSIAN LIFE AND POLITICS

the actor put his arm around the grand duchess
and kissed her. The somewhat misty eyes of the
grand duke beheld this action, and the aristocratic
blood of his imperial Highness began to boil.
He slapped the actor in the face. This was the
signal for a battle, which ended with broken china,
tables, and chairs, and with the entrance of the
police, who closed the place, thus punishing the
poor manager for his short-sightedness in having
permitted a "mixed" party with those "French
plebeians."

Next morning the grand duke was summoned
before his brother, the Czar Alexander III, who,
looking at the variegated face of Vladimir, which
showed the nicest pattern in green, blue, and
yellow, had to conceal his laughter under his
indignation. He ordered that the grand duchess
should live for a while in the cooler social atmos-
phere outside Russia. Since then the handsome
grand duke has died. Maria Pavlovna has
pleasantly and charmingly headed charity fetes
or favored Paris and Biarritz with her presence,
giving luster to French- American society, and
bringing back to Russia much interesting and
valuable information of a character more com-

149



RUSSIA OF YESTERDAY AND TO-MORROW

mercial than diplomatic. It was said that
through the cleverness of the grand duchess the
union of the French plants of Schneider-Creuzot
and the Russian Putilow munition plants were
brought about. It is certain that the grand
duchess now brings by her warm-heartedness
much blessing to the poor soldiers who are nursed
under her roof. She is very Russian, this grand
duchess of German descent.

The activities and ambitions of another char-
acter, the Grand Duchess Anastasia, wife of the
Grand Duke Nicholas Nicolaievitch, ended in the
autumn of 1915 with the dismissal of the grand
duke. She is the daughter of the King of Monte-
negro, a splendid business man, who put into his
daughter's head the idea of becoming czarina.
This, he dreamed, would be the best and the last
coup of his active life. The first year of the
Great War the grand duchess lived in a dream of
ever-growing glory, being surrounded by flat-
terers who paid court to the "czarina-to-be," thus
widening the cleft between the palace in Peterhof
and the marble palace on the Neva. Her fanat-
icism for all that was Slavic set on fire the
imagination of the grand duke, her husband, and

150



RUSSIAN LIFE AND POLITICS

started the conflagration of the world. She has
seen her glory broken to pieces, she has faced the
downfall of the grand duke, and it was said that
she would return with her husband, who would
accept his reinstatement to former superiority in
the army from the hands of those who dictated
the abdication of the czar.

The czarina is the great tragic figure in the new
drama where the imperial family have the leading
parts. She is accused of having betrayed Rus-
sia ; she is made the cause for sins committed more
than half a century ago, and she is not Russian.
This is her greatest crime, and she is paying the
debt to her own deceived soul. She tried too hard
to be a Russian, she gradually narcotized her
sound spirit with the incense of the Greek Ortho-
dox Church and its mysticism. She was in a
state in which a human being, desperately
unhappy, intoxicated herself to forget, to live
under the veil of unreality. The reality in the
life of the czarina made everybody shudder who
knew what her life was. Her strength was
broken on the day of her coronation and never
quite recovered. Had she had the self -preserv-
ing energy of the great Catharine, she would have

151



RUSSIA OF YESTERDAY AND TO-MORROW

shaken off the weakening influence of the czar,
under which she suffered. The czarina contra-
dicts by her actions what was a reproach to her.
She is not a German; she walked along with the
czar as far as he went, and she never revolted ; she
never struggled to find again her own way to
light and certainty. Her martyred soul was con-
demned to death ; her mind became bhnd, and her
eyes looked into a hopeless emptiness. She
looked for a strong hand that would guide her
and teach her when she had forgotten how to
walk straight. She thought the light must shine
from the people, and she took the hand of the
peasant, humbling herself and believing in the
simple faith of Rasputin. He was not the dark
power for her ; he was her light, and his death had
brought back to her the dark powers which have
strangled her life. The czarina is a legendary
personality, a woman who lost her way in the
density and the mystery of Russia.

She did not belong to the influences in Russia ;
she had the terrible passivity which the czar pos-
sessed, and which was paralyzing to everybody in
his environment who had not the force to resist
or to dominate him. The only salvation would

152



RUSSIAN LIFE AND POLITICS

have been for the czarina to separate from the
czar. It is too late now; she has descended the
steps from the throne which she was unable to
hold. By birth she had carried into Russia the
strong will of those women who knew their duties ;
but she became a Russian, and that was her doom.

The strong cruelty and the cold calculation
with which the czarina dowager, Maria Feodo-
rovna, worked, should have been an example for
her. Her tireless, unscrupulous machinations
brought Nicholas to his fall.

Although Maria Feodorovna was heart and
soul in the war enterprise, war between Russia
and Germany, war between the old and new
regimes, she must have been disagreeably sur-
prised when the war led to the revolution de-
throning the Romanoffs. In her mind the new
regime meant her ruling influence through
Michael; the appointment of ministers and in-
terior and foreign pohtics in her own hands. A
second Semiramis of the North she would have
governed Russia in the darkest, reactionary form
without any concern for the people.

Many years ago when a procession headed by
the priest Father Gapon marched to the Winter

153



RUSSIA OF YESTERDAY AND TO-MORROW

Palace, people from all parts of the city joined
the slow-moving masses that with peace in their
soul sang their sacred old songs and carried their
pleas to the czar. Even the police did not dare
to stop this pilgrimage of faithful men and
women, and let the procession pass through the
arch at the entrance of the court of the palace.
It happened that the czarina-mother, who had at-
tended mass in the chapel of the palace, saw the
procession sweeping toward the square and heard
the monotonous singing. She thought that it
was the first sign of the storming of the palace,
and, before the czar knew the intentions of the
approaching people, she summoned the guards,
and it was she who gave the first order to shoot
among the kneeling men and women who were
prostrating themselves before the Little Father
and who fell dead with their faces in the dust.
Children, anxious to see the parade, had climbed
on lantern-posts, trees, and gates, and were shot
down, falling from their lofty places to the feet
of their parents.

When the czar recognized the terrible error it
was too late. The frightened soldiers who had
fired on their own brethren bent their heads, and

154



RUSSIAN LIFE AND POLITICS

they will never forget what the czarina-mother
made them do. The silence of death covered the
place, from which the soldiers who had drawn
their rifles, helped to lift the bodies to the large
open peasant wagons. With the bloody Sun-
day the name of Maria Feodorovna was fatally
associated.

Nothing could break the force of the czarina
dowager; no priest, no superstition. She loved
life, and she knew that life never lay in the dusky
air of the church. She walked over corpses when
it was necessary to push her plans. Her politi-
cal education was finished in England, where
passions or sentiments were never mixed with
politics. She went home from Germany when
the war broke out. The Germans, not knowing,
let her go back to Russia with her heart full of
hate and contempt for Germany and the unshak-
able resolution to change the Russian system.
She is not Russian at all, and, paradoxical as it
may seem, this makes her strong in Russia.

In the seclusion of her little house in Tsarskoje-
Sselo lived the only woman who has been close to
the czarina, and whose influence was not with
state affairs, but with the little personal happiness

155



RUSSIA OF YESTERDAY AND TO-MORROW

that was brought to the czarina in the last years.
It was a spiritual influence toward the supernat-
ural ; and instead of clarifying the czarina's mind,
it was confusing. Anna Wiribouwa, the gen-
uine fanatic, devoted her entire life to redeem-
ing the czarina from the dark powers that sur-
rounded her. With the help of Rasputin she de-
stroyed the pale fear which held the czarina in
an eternal suppression of her own personahty.
She knew why the czarina could not reach the
sympathy of Russians. It was the insincerity
and the uncertainty of the czarina's own feelings.
The Russians are very susceptible to this. They
cannot be deceived. They will not have imita-
tions. The czarina always seemed to be embar-
rassed before Russians because she was anxious
to please them. Anna Wiribouwa was the
woman in whom the czarina confided all her
struggles. Religion did not help any longer
after the despicable intrigues of the court monks.
Anna Wiribouwa decided that the czarina had to
be cured by the psychic forces, and the great mis-
take began with Rasputin.

Anna Wiribouwa's life was bound to that of
the czarina through a deep secret, which is the

156



RUSSIAN LIFE AND POLITICS

secret of the two women, and which never will be
revealed unless Anna Wiribouwa betrays the
great tragedy of an empress. But Anna Wiri-
bouwa is a Russian, who would die a thousand
deaths before delivering a secret buried in her
soul. She is one of the strong even in her errors;
and she is one of the wonderful Russian women
without any ambition. She would have had the
same devotion for the czarina if the sovereign
had been a simple woman, and she will have the
same devotion for her in her exile. Both are of
the same planet, to speak in the terms of Anna
Wiribouwa; their souls united for the earth and
for eternity. Anna Wiribouwa is the great
enigma in this court tragedy, and her strong be-
hef in the czarina will help to transfigure this
pathetic image of a sovereign.

Among these big figures connected with recent
events, are many stories of women who are still
working behind the scenes, and who one day will
be at the head. Others, married to Russians,
were persuaded to barter Russian interests to
foreign powers. One of these is the Countess

N , an American by birth, divorced from her

first husband, a German baron. As the wife of

157



RUSSIA OF YESTERDAY AND TO-MORROW

a former military attache in Paris she had
opened years before the war her hospitable home
to would-be society people of rising ambitions.

Count N was removed from Paris to be one

of the leading officers in the general staff of the
Russian army, and the countess was arrested at
the beginning of the war, accused of having sent
information to her first husband, the German
baron, with whom she had remained on friendly
terms. The intermediary, a young attache who
had been rewarded by the countess with her
favor, was shot. The countess, it was said, was
sent to a fortress, but was later released, and is
living under surveillance in the house of her hus-
band. But who ever will know the real dramas
that took place under the secrecy of a court-mar-
tial? Will these veiled human tragedies be re-
vealed some day by those who took part in them ?
The Russian woman is deeply rooted in her
own country. She develops differently in other
conditions. Her personal independence is ab-
solutely harmonious with the Russian life. Fre-
quently her contempt of conventionalities pro-
duces a strange opinion regarding her moral
sense. The mother of the Crown Princess of

158



RUSSIAN LIFE AND POLITICS

Germany and the Queen of Denmark, the Grand
Duchess Anastasia of Mecklenburg- Schwerin,
held court in her villa amid the enchanting per-
fumes of the Riviera gardens. It was a court of
the time of the Decameron of Boccaccio, no
more, no less. Yet despite all, — and this is the
point of greatness in the laxities of the uprooted
Russian nature, — she gave her daughters not
through example, but through the sincerity of her
criticized life, the liberty to become what she had
been or to be happy in the strong and simple
duties of family life.

The morganatic wives of the different grand
dukes remain in modest retirement, that is never
observed in other nations. They are far too in-
telligent to be banal or to be rejected by the aris-
tocracy, and they hve outside Russia in the full
happiness of their marriages. They would have
returned if the Grand Duke Michael took the
throne. He himself once gave up the right to
the crown by marrying the divorced wife of one
of the officers of his regiment.

The Russian aristocrat is really the Russian
woman. All the national characteristics are
combined in her and brought to the culmination

159



RUSSIA OF YESTERDAY AND TO-MORROW

of refinement. She takes care not only of the
beauty of her body, but first of all and especially
of the beauty of her soul and her spirit.

The Russian man adores his woman. He
listens to her, and conversation is the chief
attraction that women exercise over men.
Women are the warm touch, the reconciling ele-
ment in Russia, the steady element in this coun-
try of contradictions. There slumbers a vast
hope in the heart of a people where women are
so sincere in their greatness and in their sins,
where hypocrisy has not yet impregnated their
souls. A Russian woman's love cannot be
bought. She shares voluntarily the degradation
of her man, and she shares gladly his heights ; but
she will never humiliate herself to a social lie.



160



CHAPTER VI

THE END OF THE ROMANOFF DYNASTY — THE

GRAND DUKES — PRINCES WITH A

BIRTHRIGHT TO THE THRONE

When the little czarevitch was stricken with a
disease that seemed incurable, Russia had to face
the problem of the succession to the throne. The
Romanoffs had to pass in review one by one.

There was, first of all, the czar's brother, the
same Grand Duke Michael who was chosen by
the new democracy as regent for the little czar-
evitch. The holy synod of old Russia would
never have recognized Michael as a possible heir
to the throne, because he had renounced his rights
when he married the divorced wife of one of the
officers of his regiment. He met Mme. de Woul-
fers at Gatshina, at the home of his general,
Baron Girard de Soucanton. The general and
his wife favored the romance of the grand duke
without believing in his serious intention. How-
ever, despite the ambitious intrigues of the czarina

161



RUSSIA OF YESTERDAY AND TO-MORROW

dowager, he threw away the imperial burden and
married Mme. de Woulfers. Baron Girard was
pensioned for the mere accident of having intro-
duced the beautiful woman to the grand duke,
and Michael's name was erased from the book
of Russia's court, and his disgrace was published
by the czar's declaration in the newspapers that
he would not be responsible for any debts con-
tracted by his brother.

The Russian crown seemed not to be attractive
to the Romanoffs when in competition with the
favor of women. For them the crown jewels lost
their brilliancy when compared with the luster of
beautiful eyes. Of the three sons of the Grand


1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

Online LibraryLeonie Ida Philipovna Souiny-SeydlitzRussia of yesterday and to-morrow → online text (page 7 of 17)