Leonie Ida Philipovna Souiny-Seydlitz.

Russia of yesterday and to-morrow online

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Duke Vladimir, Cyril, the eldest, a rear admiral
in the Russian navy, gave up his right as heir
presumptive to the throne when he married a
Princess of Coburg, the divorced wife of the
czarina's brother, the Grand Duke of Hesse.
The czar could not object to the pedigree of the
princess, but the rules of the imperial house and
of the Church of Russia did not recognize the
marriage of divorced persons. The grand duke
was banished from the court and dismissed from
the navy, but after a year he was restored to his



rank in the service, while still ignored at court.
Boris, the second son, would then have been
heir, but the idea of making the gay Boris a czar
seemed to the world only a joke fit for the opera
comique — Boris, the trotteur of the Parisian
boulevards; Boris, who was the center of all the
chroniques scandaJeuses wherever the great world
dined, supped, and sojourned; Boris, the spurious
imitation of the Prince of Wales, later King
Edward VII. There was this difference between
the two that the Prince of Wales was a grand
viveur, with an exuberance of spirit and temper-
ament, and bored with the conventional and insig-
nificant life to which a crown prince is condemned
in England, where even a king is a grand seignior
of leisure, while Boris had no resources. The
stories of the Prince of Wales were amusing and
witty, but the amusements of Boris were more or
less shocking, and if he had not been a grand
duke of Russia, an excuse for his idle hfe, he
would have been looked on as a negligible quan-
tity of society. The Russians would have re-
volted against the crowning of Boris, though less
for his private life than for the negative heroism
that he showed in the Russo-Japanese War,



There was still the third of the brothers,
Alexander, a good-looking officer of the body-
guard who was probably not exposed on the
firing-line of the Great War.

The Grand Duke Paul, brother of Alexander
III, also preferred domestic happiness to the
uncertainty of a Russian throne. He married as
his second wife the Countess Hohenfelsen. By
his first wife, the Princess of Greece, he had two
children, the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlowitch
and the Grand Duchess Maria, the much criti-
cized, capricious Princess of Sweden, who, bored
by her husband and her life at the Swedish court,
divorced Prince Wilhelm and went back to Rus-

Dmitri was pointed out as the presumptive
czarevitch not officially, but officiously. After
the death of their mother, Dmitri and his sister,
children of tender ages, passed their youth in
Moscow under the care of the Grand Duchess
Sergius. Despite the curse resting upon the
house of Sergius, the children had a delightful
and happy youth with the angelic grand duchess.
The terrible end of the tyrant made a lasting
impression on the delicate Dmitri, especially










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after he learned that on the first day set for the
assassination the death-bringing bomb had not
been thrown because he accompanied the grand
duke, the revolutionists sparing the hfe of the
little boy.

The idea of being thought of as the future czar
of Russia depressed Dmitri. He had to leave
the care of his beloved aunt and to take posses-
sion of the palace on the Moika, where first of all
he built a big skating-room, his boy's dream.
The preparation for a future czar meant first the
undergoing of the hardship of an extremely
severe mihtary education, to be a perfect horse-
man, to be trained as if for a circus, to become the
best shot and most fearless fighter, whereas the
spiritual quahties of Dmitri were specially devel-
oped. A princely life, with its reckless pleasures
in worthless company, the squandering of health
and moral ideals and frequent intoxication
seemed to be inseparable from the conception of
an heir to the Russian throne. The delicate,
slender Dmitri became a pathetic figure in his
blase youthfulness. Life had no secrets for him,
and his refined, subtle tastes became submerged
beneath brutalities that he thought heroic. Once



he offended his superior officer publicly, and
though the military honor apparently was saved
by the arrest of the young grand duke in his own
palace, the incident was not the careless frivohty
of thoughtless youth, but the alarming sign of
the Romanoff inheritance. In military life an
eternal contradiction was forced on the imperial
princes. In one way they were treated as simple
officers in their regiments, being on terms of
cordiahty with their fellow-officers, which is to
say that the princes condescended to their com-
rades, and therefore never got over the selfishness
of the autocratic feehng. An invisible barrier
was erected even by the superiors who always
danced on a glass floor with every little im-
perial highness. Sooner or later, for some certain
purpose, a party was formed around each inexpe-
rienced princely boy, encouraging his self-
importance, which was often the basis of his later
tyranny or viciousness. It was seldom that one
of the grand dukes played a really active part in
Russia's politics. All were more or less figure-
heads of a party, and used by it until it ended
invariably in sensational scandal.

Another Romanoff, who died recently, the



Grand Duke Constantin Const antinovitch, the
dreamer and poet among them, himself too
modest, too much of a philosopher to believe in
the blood privilege which gives the right to gov-
ern a people, imagined his splendid boy Oleg to
be the hope of Russia. Oleg was killed in
Poland. He was only seventeen when he took
his commission and went to the front to replace
fallen comrades. Only a week, and he died a real

No, the Russian throne was not a place longed
for. It was a place with no prospects, with a
sterile hopelessness for everything to which a
man aspired in life. The power of a Russian
czar extended only so far as his creatures per-
mitted; he himself was the most oppressed man
in his country.

The circle around the Romanoffs grew very
thin at last. Even the popularity of Nicholas
Nicolaievitch was a story believed only outside
Russia. Those who exultantly went into the
first battles were killed or wounded, and the sol-
diers whom the grand duke led are gone. The
men now fighting on the Eastern front never saw
Nicholas. This same grand duke who told his



generals that he would hang every one of them
who might steal would have also gladly hanged
the five who became the rulers of new Russia, the
men whom he was compelled to obey faute de

Long before the will of the people ended the
Romanoff dynasty it was in danger through the
circumstance of the little czarevitch's physical un-
fitness. In this boy slumbered all the qualities
from which to mold a real emperor. He was
morally and physically superior to the models of
grand dukes with which the world is familiar.
His ambitions were not satisfied by the brilliancy
of military spectacles; he had the ambition to
know, to study, to search for the deeper sense of
things. The child was so beautiful that a special
angel should have guarded him for his impending

So much youth, so many talents, and so much
manly force of the Romanoff could have been
mobilized for the sake of Russia if the tendency
to terrible debauches had not been deeply rooted
in this dynasty. There were no moral restric-
tions. The czars never hesitated to be bigamists,



to sin against the laws, for the breaking of which
they themselves persecuted their subjects.

There were other princes in Russia called im-
perial highnesses, not quite grand dukes, and it
was not a secret that a party was at work for a
new dynasty. It intrigued for Prince Yusu-
poff, who recently was brought before the eyes
of the pubhc in connection with the murder of
Rasputin. Those who have met the elegant
prince and know of his estheticism and refine-
ment will never believe that he could have spotted
his white, slender fingers with blood. Prince
Yusupoff married the daughter of the Grand
Duchess Xenia, the only sister of the czar, and his
own cousin. He would have brought a new line
without the slightest assurance for the better-
ment of conditions. The prince did not give the
impression of a personality that could bring into
Russia not only new blood for the coming im-
perial race but new ideas, a complete change from
old rules, from autocracy, he himself being a de-
scendant of the Tartars.

He was educated at Oxford, and if he had
been chosen by the czarina-mother to be the first



of the new dynasty, it would have been a terrible
omen for him. Any complicity in the disappear-
ance of Rasputin, with all its cruel and barbaric
details, would have been a sad beginning for a
promising career. The Russian throne would
have been only the stimulus of an adventure and
not the supreme desire of a noble youth to give
to a beloved country freedom and constitutional
rights. Even if Prince Yusupoff himself is in-
nocent of this murder, the world first learned his
name in this bloody connection, and his house
was virtually used to carry out the plot. With
this entry into the history of Russia he could
never have been accepted either by his own coun-
try or the world.

There are still many princes in Russia, noble-
men of long traditions, some of them dating back
in the origin of their families to the Ruriks, an
older dynasty than the Romanoffs. They have
names known all over the world. Among them
are revolutionists and anarchists, grand seigniors
and scientists, fascinating and alarming in the
combination of highest idealism and lack of con-
science, bringing wherever they go the contradic-
tions of their own natures, and always giving



the impression of the instability of their own
country. Very adaptable to the habits and lan-
guages of other countries, they startle by their
extravagances, their mixture of grand seignior
and brute, stirring curiosity, and leaving behind
them the puzzling idea of something mysterious,
something which the other parts of the European
world never will understand.

It is only a Russian aristocrat who can pene-
trate the most profound thoughts of other na-
tions. He points out all the weak spots with a
Rabelaisian humor; the non-Russian always is
the subject of his polite sarcasm. Laughingly
and seriously he avenges Russia for the miscon-
ceptions of the world, and he takes advantage of
human foibles wherever he meets them. A
wealthy American was the laughing-stock of the
Russian jeunesse doree a few years ago. The
American, traveling with his wife and daughter,
met in Moscow a genuine Russian prince. Fa-
ther, mother, and daughter made the most of this
precious acquaintance, and when the prince sug-
gested that they stay for the season in Moscow,
the American millionaire, desirous of showing
the Russian aristocracy what American money



could buy, looked for the best palace on the mar-
ket. The Russian Prince saw his opportunity
to get out of some nagging debts, and he drove
with the family to find a suitable residence.
With critical eyes the Americans glanced at the
rather plain dwellings, finding nothing that was
promising until the carriage stopped before a
government building, which, with its closed win-
dows and drawn curtains, gave the impression
of being uninhabited. The American liked the
noble-looking house, and he hked the hilly place
on which the palace is erected. He liked even
the two tiny "shield-houses" on each corner of the
palace, built for the special bodyguard, as the
Prince explained. A bodyguard! That would
be a new experience for the American, and he
asked the prince to help him purchase the palace.
The prince smiled. Even though it was a govern-
ment building, where the president of the min-
istry resided when he came to Moscow, why could
not this house be bought for a few days? There
was no danger of the ministers' coming at that
time, and the prince gave a handsome tip to the
superintendent of the palace, who made no ob-
jection when he led the family through the vast



rooms, which were not wholly satisfactoiy in the
way of furnishing. The American lady decided
to have more rugs on the floors and to add many
draperies. In the big ball-room life-size por-
traits of the czar and the czarina met with favor.
When the treasures of silver were shown, the
millionaire was ready to buy the house, and the
prince not only made the arrangements for the
first payment, but he insisted on giving a dinner
party that night. The superintendent, knowing
the extravagant vagaries of the gay prince and
being silenced by money, helped to prepare for
the banquet. The party was extremely gay.
The prince introduced as his guest his lawyer,
who took charge of the big check given by the
American. After a dehcious Russian dinner,
with vodka and champagne, the family was
driven back to the hotel to pass the last night
before taking possession of the palace. Alas!
the next day the prince had left the city, and a
note expressed his regret that, despite all efforts,
the government building was not available. He
had gone to the Caucasus, where he hoped to find
a castle which would be more worthy of the re-
fined taste of the ladies. Afraid of being laughed



at, the American kept silent, and Moscow was
greatly amused by the story, which did not do
any harm to the scoundrelly prince.

The richest part of Russia was owned by the
Romanoffs and the high aristocracy. In most
cases the management of the land was left to ir-
responsible superintendents. It was understood
that these men made fortunes out of the prop-
erties confided to them. In only a few cases,
where frauds were too flagrant, were inquiries
made, and then the most unspeakable conditions
affecting land and peasants were exposed to the

There are parts of Russia in which many hun-
dred thousand acres of mineral and forest lands
are idle and ruined, because they are too remote
from their owners, who hve somewhere outside
of Russia, and do not take the slightest interest
in the property left to them by their ancestors.
The wealth of these families was unmeasurable,
and as long as a superintendent collected the
rents it was a matter of indifference where he
procured the money or how tenants and peasants
were treated by the rascally employees who filled
their own pockets, jeopardizing the well-being



not only of the people, but of their masters.
Often a discharged superintendent left an es-
tate a rich man, and the grand seignior was

It was the dream of Tolstoy to bring the high
aristocracy to such a consciousness of their duty
that they would take land matters into their own
hands. His dream has become a realization.
Prince Lvoff , one of the five who rescued Russia,
took the direction not only of the land interests
of the people, but of the nobility.

Outside of Russia Russians always have dis-
cussed their own country with innumerable sighs
and plans to change the politics — ^how to make it
possible to live in Russia. Outside of Russia the
noblemen were the greatest liberals and revision-
ists of Russia, but when they returned they crept
back under the quilt of moral laxity. The home
atmosphere did not agree with the ideas brought
from other countries, and, then, they would have
had to explain, to educate, to begin with the a
b c's of reforms. Changes, they thought, would
disturb the machinery of government, would
trouble the people, and would not help much.
The Russian's ear was deafened by every-day



complaints, and drastic means were necessary to
shake the whole system.

The spectator outside of Russia is now released
from an eternal tension of wonder about what
will become of the country after the war. The
high-flying ideals of Prince Kropotkin have been
realized. The high aristocracy will no longer be
the beautiful decoration of Russia and other
parts of the world. The grand seigniors will
stay at home, and put into action what they so
beautifully dramatized in words. They will fi-
nally look on the people as human beings, chil-
dren confided to the care of those older and wiser.

It was always the greatest puzzle to the world
that all the representatives of the best of Rus-
sia, living outside of their own country, had ad-
mirable qualities, many talents, an absolute
taste in literature, — they are never dilettantes,
but always artists or philosophers, with the wis-
dom of the ancient Greeks, — and yet at home
they contented themselves with the most terrible
and scoundrelly system, and even took part in it.
The Russian aristocrat is more democratic in Rus-
sia than elsewhere, perhaps because he is the real
aristocrat, the individual man, not the man who



must submit to laws made only for the people.
There were always special laws for the aristoc-
racy in Russia, and if the Russian aristocrats had
only lived up to their privileges as the real gen-
tilhommes sans peur et sans reproche, the people
would have been saved.

The Russian aristocrat has not quite under-
stood his great responsibility as a sovereign in
his own realm, — for the large estates are really
little kingdoms, — and if the little kings had had
the ambition to rule their own dominions Russia
could have been an ideal state, different in po-
Htical combinations, but still a model in itself, and
the world would have reckoned with it as it reck-
ons with Oriental countries. Russian culture
was similar to the Russian frontier ; with his first
step across it the foreigner realized that he was
in alien provinces.

The world has known and judged Russia by
the aristocrats and the revolutionists, both arous-
ing the greatest interest and curiosity wherever
they went. And because the world has learned
by these travelers something of the qualities of
Russians, and found them different from other
Europeans, it should tolerate and understand the



different conceptions of life that the Russians
have had and always will have. They are too
original, too strong in their good and bad char-
acteristics, to be absorbed by a pohtical system
practical in other countries. The innumerable
classes of aristocrats, high and low, are composed
of innumerable little autocrats. They have not
the snobbishness of the younger nations with a
desire to be more than they really are. They are
so utterly convinced that the world consists of
them, and that, therefore, nothing beside them
really counts, that class distinctions have been
carried to such an extreme that no Russian ever
had the false ambition to enter circles to which
he could not belong by birth or social position.
The Russian does not feel honored to be tolerated
in society; he would not go where he did not ac-
tually belong.

Russia for this reason has been the most aristo-
cratic and the most democratic country. Social
questions naturally were solved on the idea that
an elephant never would seek the company of a
fox. Those wonder-people of spirit and talent
and genius will find their happiness in their own
way, and all efforts of the world to conform Rus-



sian politics or commercial conditions to its mod-
els must be vain from beginning to end. Rus-
sians belong to the white race, but Russian habits
must be studied as Chinese or Japanese habits
are studied, and even more, because the Russian
is changeable in his loves and his hates. A high
aristocrat, when asked which he preferred, France
or England, answered seriously, "I prefer noth-
ing which is not Russian."

How far the Russian remained Russian in his
own country is illustrated in a little story. A
Russian prince, a graduate of German and Eng-
lish universities, with a profound knowledge of all
that was modern in Europe, was an enthusiastic
representative of the last cry in culture. When
in Russia he lived in his wonderful castle in the
Crimea, where his ancestors had possessed the
richest vineyards. The young prince squandered
a great deal of his forti;ne. He squandered until
he became an old prince, though he still owned
his castle. Outside Russia he was a fanatic, op-
posed to the throne and the Russian Government.
It happened that when the former Imperial
family was passing the springtime in the Crimea,
the czar and the czarina stopped at the prince's



castle for its famous view. The old prince,
student of Heidelberg and Oxford, the demo-
cratic aristocrat, received his sovereigns with all
the honor due them. He led the empress to the
little hill from which the view is most beautiful,
and when her Majesty, clasping her hands, ex-
claimed that it was a place where she would wish
to live, the old aristocrat answered with a bow:
"Your Majesty, the place is yours."
The next day he made the legal transfer, re-
taining for himself only the small house in which
his superintendent had lived. The prince did
what his Russian grand seignioral generosity
dictated despite his adopted democracy. Would
he ever have turned his castle into an asylum for
tuberculosis workers?

And the Russians adored their princes. They
were diverting; they were the people's fairy-
tales; and the more barbaric they were, the more
they appealed to the imagination of their coun-
trymen. The readjustment of Russia, with
the accompanying circumstances, is likened to
the French Revolution. This is wrong. The
Russian people will not do away with the nobility.
The good old names, which the people worship,



are associated with their legends. But the Rus-
sians have parted from the Romanoffs. The
dynasty is ended, and even if one Romanoff
should be different, the name to-day is accursed
in Russia. The people have been abused and op-
pressed by them. The Romanoffs are allied with
the Siberian horrors, and as the Siberian victims
— those who have not been murdered — come back,
the pale and ruined witnesses of the Romanoffs'
government, there can never be a place for this

No, the Russian Revolution is not like the
French Revolution. It is a revolution of a
higher ideal. Intelligence and necessity coolly
dominate, organizing, and not delivering en bloc
the nobility to the wild blood-orgies of the mob.

It is the people's springtime in Russia. The
traditions of an old aristocracy are as politically
dead in Russia as they are in France. The Rus-
sian nobility may retire to its Faubourg St.
Germain, still preserving the refined qualities that
a past splendor has left it ; or, what is even pos-
sible in Russia, it may mingle with the democ-
racy, gaining reputation as a class, which is not
exhausted, not degenerated, which also has suf-



fered and sighed under the corruption of a Gov-
ernment composed of creatures of the czar.

No one in the world can take away the prestige
of a real nobleman, and the Russian people will
recognize the real noblemen in those who were
the first to join young Russia. It would be a
proof of the inferiority of the high Russian
aristocracy if it showed itself as an aristocracy
only by the grace of the Romanoffs.




On the Isaacs Plaza, with the Isaacs Church
of malachite in the background, is the building
of the German embassy, once a fine palace, one
of the best buildings in former St. Petersburg.
Then a German architect rebuilt it to show Ger-
many's latest art to the Russians. When the
palace was finished, it had lost the aristocratic
appearance of an ambassador's residence, but
had gained new significance through the artist's
triumphant idea of placing on the roof a gigantic
bronze group, representing two heavy-looking,
unclothed warriors leaning on two enormous
horses, personifying will and strength. The
Russians objected to this muscular expression of

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Online LibraryLeonie Ida Philipovna Souiny-SeydlitzRussia of yesterday and to-morrow → online text (page 8 of 17)