Samuel M. (Samuel Mosheim) Smucker.

The life and reign of Nicholas the First, emperor of Russia online

. (page 12 of 23)
Online LibrarySamuel M. (Samuel Mosheim) SmuckerThe life and reign of Nicholas the First, emperor of Russia → online text (page 12 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

sons at St. Petersburg commanded twenty rubles,
per lesson, if she went abroad. On one occasion,
having appointed to give a lesson at the house of
the Countess ScheremitofF, she arrived a short time
after the appropriate hour. She apologized by saying,
that she was compelled to wait for a hackney-coach.
Upon the day fixed for the next lesson, an elegant
carriage awaited her; and on her returning home in
it, the coachman begged to know, where he should


put it up? Two lines from the liberal countess
begged her musical friend to accept of it, as a
trifling present from herself.

During the residence of the Countess de Rossi at
the court of St. Petersburg, Nicholas displayed his
appreciation of her exalted merits as an artist, by
uniting in the general and urgent request of the
court, that she should throw aside the trammels of
her official and diplomatic rank, and sing before a
select audience composed of the highest aristocracy
of the capital. She did so, to the intensest gratifica-
tion and delight of her distinguished audience.

When the celebrated pianist Liszt visited St.
Petersburg, the emperor attended all the twelve
concerts which he gave in that city. The whole
court, the highest nobility, and all the distinguished
men of the capital, following the example of the
sovereign, crowded his concert-room; and the re-
ceipts for a single night amounted to 20,000 rubles.
He received many pieces of jewelry from the em-
peror, as testimonials of his admiration of the artist.

The great representatives of all the various depart-
ments of the arts, have received patronage, equally
partial and profitable, from the czar. "When the
great queen of the Terpsichorean art, Fanny Elssler,
appeared in St. Petersburg, she was treated with
marked consideration by the czar, who fully appre-


elated the extraordinary skill, and unequalled grace,
which characterized her performances, especially at a
period when she was in the meridian of her powers.
Nicholas has also honoured tragedy, in the person
of its most illustrious representative, Mademoiselle
Eachel. The first occasion on which he beheld
the performance of this great artist, was while on a
visit with the empress to Berlin. Mile. Eachel was
requested to perform before the imperial and royal
families at the lie des paons. The soft green turf
formed the only stage, in this beautiful and retired
spot, which was in the vicinity of the palaces of
Potsdam. The audience were placed on a few ele-
gant fauteuils arranged in front of the actress. At
length the emperor advances, and familiarly address-
ing the great actress, compliments her on her fame
and her abilities; and placing his chair nearer to
her, said, " I have requested this performance here,
in order that I might have a nearer view of you,
than on the stage." She performed the part of Vir-
ginie ; and so charmed was Nicholas then with her
performance, that he extended to Rachel an invita-
tion to visit St. Petersburg. On the following day,
Count Orloff brought from him a magnificent brooch,
valued at thirty thousand francs, as a gift to the
tragedienne, and as a token of his admiration of
her abilities.


In November, 1852, in accordance with the invi-
tation of Nicholas, M'Ue Rachel visited St. Peters-
burg. The czar did not disappoint the expecta-
tions which he had led the artist to entertain. She
gave twenty representations in the Russian capital,
most of which were attended by the imperial family
and by the court. The receipts for these twenty
performances are said to have been over 200,000
francs. On the evening of the Russian fete of St.
Catherine, she was invited to perform at the palace
of the Grand Duchess Helena, at which the whole
of the imperial family were present. Afterward, at
the special request of Nicholas, she performed in
the Winter Palace, at a soirte, at which the entire
court attended.

It is indeed in connection with his patronage
of art, and his attachment to his family, that the
most pleasing and attractive qualities of the Czar
Nicholas appear. In these displays he seems no
longer the terrible despot, the unsympathizing mag-
nate of a vast empire ; he then stands forth with
an agreeable visage, as a man, susceptible of human
feelings and attachments.

The members of the family of Nicholas were, in
general, princes and princesses of merit. The em-
press, his wife, was a daughter of the beautiful but
afflicted Queen Louisa of Prussia, whose gentle spirit



was broken and outraged by the brutality of Napo-
leon, when the battle of Jena placed the sovereignty
of the house of Brandenburg beneath his iron foot.
The Russian empress was handsome in form and fea-
ture, though somewhat cold and reserved in her man-
ners. She was tall and slender in person ; but for
many years suffered under a nervous disease. The
czar had four sons and two daughters. The eldest son
is Alexander II., the present Czar of all the Eussias.
He is represented as being a person of amiable
temper and pleasing address ; but he has been de-
scribed, whether truly or not is uncertain, as being
weak-minded, and even partially deranged. It may
be the fact, that the vast anxieties and cares which
he has inherited with his throne, in the conduct
of the disastrous war in the East, may have proved
too much for a mind of ordinary, or perhaps of in-
ferior, calibre. It is certain, however, that his bro-
ther, the Grand Duke Constantine, is a person of
very different temper and disposition. He is next
in the succession after the present czar, should the
latter die without issue. He resembles his uncle,
the late Grand Duke Constantine, in the stern qua-
lities and warlike nature of his disposition. Once
the present czar, Alexander, remarked in his hear-
ing, that "the charge of ruling a nation was a very
burdensome one." Constantine immediately re-


plied with energy, "If you have nothing else to
trouble you, speak the word, brother, and I will re-
lieve you of that charge." It is certain that if Con-
stantine ever succeeds to the throne of the Czars,
he will reign with a rod of iron over the millions
who will have become subject to his power.

As an evidence of the attachment borne by Ni-
cholas to the memory of his brother, Alexander L,
we may refer to the magnificent column erected by
him in honour of the latter in St. Petersburg.

This immense shaft is the largest in the world.
It was elevated on its pedestal on St. Alexander
Newsky's day, October 30, 1832, in the presence of
the imperial family, the nobility, the citizens, and a
vast concourse of strangers. It was placed in the
large square in front of the Winter Palace of the
emperor. This superb monument is of red granite,
the pedestal of which i's forty feet high. The shaft,
which consists of a single piece, is eighty-five feet
in length, and twelve feet in diameter at the top.
The column supports a colossal bronze statue, repre-
senting an angel holding a cross. The statue, in-
cluding its pedestal and -the capital of the column,
is thirty-five feet high. The height of the whole
monument, from the ground to the top of the statue,
is one hundred and sixty feet. The stone for this
stupendous monument was brought from Finland,


and transported to St. Petersburg in a ship built for
that express purpose. The inclined plane on which
the shaft was rolled from the Neva to its present
site, contained a forest of wood, which alone cost
$200,000. The column was raised to its position on
its pedestal by means of sixty capstans, manned by
twenty-five hundred of the veteran soldiers of Alex-
ander L, who had served under him in his most
glorious campaigns. Each of these veterans was
decorated with a badge of honour. The difficult
task of its elevation was accomplished by the en-
gineers of Nicholas without the slightest accident,
in the presence of an immense multitude, who pre-
served the silence of the grave while the shaft was
ascending to its resting-place ; but whose acclama-
tions seemed to shake the earth, and rend the sky,
after the work had been completed.

It was a peculiar and undisputed characteristic
of Nicholas, that he entertained intense admiration
for Napoleon I., and was, in fact, a servile imitator
of that great man, as far as it was possible for him
to be so.

The reader will have observed, that from the
commencement of his reign, in all his wars, Nicho-
las had been victorious; that in every conspiracy
he had been triumphant over his enemies ; that by
diplomacy, as well as by conquest, he had uniformly


obtained all that his politic ambition had induced
him to demand. During his first war with Turkey,
he had lost 200,000 men by famine and disease, and
by the incapacity of General Diebitsch ; and yet he
had concluded the treaty of Adrianople, by which
he had obtained the most humiliating and disas-
trous concessions from the sultan. It was not very
singular, therefore, that Nicholas should imagine
himself to have been a great hero; and that his
uniform successes should have induced him to in-
dulge the belief that these, coupled with his vast
inherited power, rendered him, in some measure,
the equal of the ambitious and successful Corsican.
The power wielded by Nicholas I. was certainly not
much inferior to that acquired by Napoleon ; but in
the qualities of his mind, though he was by no
means an ordinary man, the Russian potentate falls
far below that most gifted and extraordinary per-
sonage, either of ancient or modern times.






THE chief administrative merits which the ad-
vocates of Mcholas can claim in his behalf are
two. The first of these is that he has attempted,
in many instances, to punish and suppress the
disgraceful venality, dishonesty, and corruption,
which so universally and shamefully prevail among
the oflicials of the government throughout the
whole empire.

Thus, on one occasion, he resolved to examine
thoroughly into the extent of this evil; and ap-
pointed two intelligent persons belonging to his
staff of secretaries Germans from Courland, in
whose integrity he seemed to have confidence to
investigate every branch of the public service ;
boldly to sound the hidden depths of this foul ocean
of corruption, and to reveal them to him. The
task was begun. It was a difficult one, and thou-


sands of impediments were thrown in the way of
the commission. But they persevered, until they
accomplished the work, as far as it could possibly
be done. The spectacle then exhibited to the
gaze of the czar was indeed a horrible one. In-
stances of bribery, shuffling, and dishonesty, were
pointed out to him, even among his highest offi-
cials. Names were freely given ; proofs were offered

in abundance.

Yet the punishment of so many, and of such
high personages, was, of course, out of the ques-
tion. The vengeance of the czar would have fallen
upon the noblest and most exalted heads in the em-
pire. He knew not what to do. To live in the
midst of such conscious corruption was horrible;
yet to remove it was impossible. In despair, the
czar threw the report of the commission into the

The same evening, burdened by his gloomy re-
flections, he went to the house of his favourite mi-
nister, Count Nesselrode. He exhibited, in his
gloomy air, evidence that something disagreeable
operated upon his spirits. The keen courtier soon
discovered the state of the czar's mind; and he
took the liberty of inquiring what was the cause of
his sadness. In reply, Nicholas briefly narrated the
results of the investigation of the commission, and


then exclaimed, with indignation, "Everybody
robs throughout the empire ! Every one around
me robs ! In whatever direction I turn my eyes, I
see nothing but pilferers and robbers ! There is
only one person, a single person, who can walk
proudly erect in conscious innocence. Of this per-
son, at least, I am sure."

Count Nesselrode of course imagined that the
czar referred to himself, and, at once appropriating
the compliment, bowed himself almost to the earth,
and was preparing to thank the czar for so great
evidence of his consideration, when the latter re-
sumed, striking his breast at the same moment,
"Don't trouble yourself; that person who does not
rob is myself! I am the only person throughout my
whole empire, who does not steal!"

The other favourable feature in the administra-
tion of Nicholas, was his exertions, on several occa-
sions, to benefit the condition of the serfs, through-
out his empire.

By the provisions of the Russian code, the con-
dition of the serfs is a very degraded one ; and the
reality fully carries out the theory of the law. By
Article 964 of that code, it is enacted, that " a
nobleman has the right of imposing on his serfs all
kinds of work, and pecuniary, personal, and other
fines. He has the right of making his serf change


his condition as a servant for that of an agricultural
labourer, or that of an agricultural labourer for that
of a servant, or of putting him out to service at a

Article 965 enacts, that "the master determines
all differences without appeal. To keep his slaves
in a state of the most passive obedience, he has the
right of employing all means of correction, and
whatever unusual punishments he may deem neces-
sary. He can even send them to Siberia, accom-
panied by their wives and children, under six years
for the males, and ten years for the females. He
has the right of transporting the whole or part of
his slaves from one estate to another ; that is to say,
from north to south, from east to west, and vice
versa. For this removal, the boyards must pay the
crown for a permit."

Article 950 reads thus : "If a serf, contrary to the
obedience which he owes his master, takes the
liberty of preferring against the latter an unau-
thorized complaint, and especially if he dares to
make it to the emperor himself, he shall, as suppli-
cant and author of the complaint, be punished with
the utmost rigour of the laws."

Such are some of the enormities, protected by
law, which exist in Russia, against the rights of

forty millions of human beings. In 1839, great ex-



citement was caused throughout the empire, by the
report that Nicholas had determined to enfranchise
the serfs. The nohles, whose entire wealth, in many
instances, consisted in their slaves, were thrown
into the greatest consternation ; and the threatened
poverty and ruin which seemed to overhang the
higher orders of the nation, were about to cause the
outbreak of a formidable revolution against the life
of the czar ; when suddenly a ukase appeared.

It contained a clause which decreed, that here-
after every farming lease or other contract which was
made and executed between a noble and his serf,
should be binding on the noble, as well as on the

This was granting something of importance ; for,
previous to this decree, the serf possessed no right
whatever, to contract in any way, either with his
master, or with any one else. But it is said, that
after all, this provision did not amount to a great
deal ; because the ukase did not provide any means
whereby to enforce the execution of contracts, on
the part of the nobles. Accordingly, the serfs soon
came to regard the ukase as a dead letter ; and re-
fused to entef into contracts with their owners, as
long as there was no certainty or security of their
execution. The ukase, at its first publication, was
regarded as a matter of vast moment. Afterward it


was treated as a nullity-, by both the parties whose
interests it affected. In fact the mountain had
laboured, but it had brought forth a mouse !

The spirit of discontent among the nobles and
aristocracy of the empire, which the action of Ni-
cholas respecting the serfs, had generated, was not
allayed; but from the year 1839, that spirit con-
tinued secretly and cautiously to grow, and was
only prevented from immediately bursting forth, by
the great dread which the well-known intrepidity,
and the terrible vindictiveness, of the czar conti-
nually inspired.

The conspirators carried on their designs in the
greatest secresy. On one occasion the leaders as-
sembled at Baden-Baden, in Germany ; and there,
under the pretence of improving their health, they
held frequent meetings. This conspiracy comprised
among its members, high officers of state, generals of
distinction in the army, senators, and men of letters.
They gave the czar a nickname, and not the most
complimentary one, in order that they might speak
in reference to him with less danger. In 1840, the
feeling of jealousy among the ancient aristocracy or
higher Russian nobility grew so strong, that the
death of the czar had then been resolved upon.
But still, the conspirators were not sufficiently des-
perate or resolute, at that time, to execute the


bloody and fearful deed. Their plan was, however,
that when Nicholas was assassinated, they would
compel Alexander II., his successor and son, to
sign an act of indemnity, and to grant a constitu-
tion to his subjects, by which the colossal power of
the czar might be curbed and diminished. From
the year 1839 to 1848, Nicholas, who was fully
aware of this state of feeling among the nobles, fre-
quently and defiantly threw down the gauntlet to
them, and treated them with the greatest disdain
and contempt. He seemed to wish to make them
more desperate, and to drive them to extremities.
He wounded their pride, by opening the university
and the public schools, and the branches of the ad-
ministration, to all suitable persons, whether they
were noblemen, or tradesmen, or emancipated serfs.
During nine years, he may be said to have lived in
continual danger. People who knew the real facts,
expected every day to hear of the violent death of
the czar. Two hostile parties stood facing each
other; and the moment of the outbreak was un-
known. These were the feudal nobility, jealous of
the great power of the Romanoffs, who had been
elected originally from among themselves, to the
dignity of the czarship, and who were therefore, in
one sense, only primi inter pares. The other party
was the vast and powerful order of the Tchinn, or


the official dignitaries throughout the empire, both
in the army, the navy, the church, and in the civil
government. At the top of this vast and towering
pyramid, Nicholas himself stood, having the sole
appointing power, and every member of it being
his own creature. Many of the principal foreigners
at St. Petersburg, during this interval, had so posi-
tively expected the outbreak of the revolution, that
they had taken measures of escaping into Finland.
They introduced the use of decked boats on the
Neva, and of boating clubs ; so that under the pre-
tence of learning how to manage their craft, they
had opportunities of becoming familiar with the
navigation about Oonstadt, and the islands which
lie near the coast of Finland, in order that they
might on some sudden and terrible emergency,
reach that country in safety.

Accordingly, two opposite sentiments existed
throughout the empire, in reference to Nicholas.
The serfs and the lower orders esteemed him as
their friend, as far as the nature of existing circum-
stances would permit. The nobility regarded him
with dislike, although they carefully concealed
their feelings. But they looked upon him as one
of themselves, who had been elevated merely by
accident above them, and invested with a pro-
digious degree of power, which made him the abso-



lute master of their lives and fortunes ; and which
power he exercised with insulting hauteur and se-

At length, in 1848, two causes succeeded in sup-
pressing the spirit of revolt against the life and
throne of Nicholas, which, for nine years, had
lurked throughout the empire. These were first,
the intrepid character of the czar, and his military
success in Persia, Turkey, Poland, and Hungary;
the second, was the outbreak of the socialistic re-
volutions in "Western Europe, in that year. The
nobles of Russia thought that, if such results fol-
lowed the spirit of reform and revolution, as it
at that time existed and operated throughout Eu-
rope, their effect in Russia would be as disastrous
to the interests of the aristocracy, as it would be to
the monarchy; and they permitted their schemes
gradually to die out. "What the consequences of a
revolution against Nicholas would have been, it
would be difficult to say. It is certain, however,
that he would have presented a vastly more for-
midable resistance to the agents of revolt than
any of his imbecile ancestors had ever done ; and
that, after a most terrible and desperate struggle,
he would have resigned his throne and empire only
with his life.

There were some traits of paternal benevolence


in the conduct of Nicholas, which it would be
unjust to his memory to suppress. On one occa-
sion, a young officer, of high and illustrious fa-
mily, lost all his patrimony by gambling. He had
even lost the money belonging to his regiment,
which he had in his custody. Four alternatives
alone remained upon this consummation of his
ruin. These were either suicide, degradation from
his rank, Siberia, or recourse to the emperor. He
resolved upon the last. He went to the palace, and
confided his situation and request to an aide-de-
camp of Nicholas, who conveyed them to the czar.
As soon as the latter heard the facts he exclaimed,
"Enough! enough! do not pronounce his name,
for if I knew it I ought to punish him." Then
opening a drawer in his bureau, he took out 30,000
rubles, and handed them to his aide-de-camp, say-
ing, " There, give him that, and never let the mat-
ter be mentioned to me again."

A singular circumstance is also related in refer-
ence to Nicholas, which would seem to imply that
he was a blind believer in destiny or in fate. Every
morning all the letters which had arrived in the
post were brought to his cabinet. They were then
opened and examined in his presence by his secre-
taries; he never touched one of them himself.
Many of the letters, whose contents were deemed


trivial, were thrown aside by these functionaries;
the more important ones alone were submitted to
the attention of the czar.

One day, while thus engaged, the czar rose to
look for a private paper lying in his bureau. He
could not, for some minutes, find it, and became
quite impatient. During all this interval, to each
of the letters read by his secretary, he answered
Refused. At length, having found the paper for
which he was searching, he answered to every one
of the letters which followed Granted.

When the task was concluded the secretary
said, "Will your majesty permit me to make an
observation?" "Certainly; what is it?" "Just
now your majesty was looking for a paper, and
while so doing you refused some dozen petitions
"Will your majesty permit me to read them
again?" "No: I refused to grant them; it was
the will of God. It was fated so to happen. I
have no doubt I decided them rightly ; and I main-
tain what I have done !"

During 1848, when the cholera again visited St.
Petersburg, Nicholas displayed the utmost intre-
pidity. Two or three thousand victims fell every
day beneath the power of the scourge. The em-
peror did not fly, although in four days, applications
were made for eighty thousand passports. The city


became deserted. Out of 450,000 inhabitants 100,000
alone remained. The streets were strewed with
corpses, and encumbered with dying persons.
Nicholas traversed the city on foot, accompanied
by one aide-de-camp ; visited the hospitals and the
barracks, and displayed the utmost intrepidity in
assisting his afflicted subjects.

But notwitstanding these favourable traits, on
the subject of political freedom he was an un-
mitigated tyrant. The following incident will
add another to the innumerable proofs already in

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibrarySamuel M. (Samuel Mosheim) SmuckerThe life and reign of Nicholas the First, emperor of Russia → online text (page 12 of 23)