Samuel M. (Samuel Mosheim) Smucker.

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

. (page 9 of 23)
Online LibrarySamuel M. (Samuel Mosheim) SmuckerThe life and reign of Nicholas the First, emperor of Russia → online text (page 9 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


chateau at Kornik; and that he then saw on the
head of the Abbess Makrena a large depression,
covered over with newly-formed skin, an inch broad
and the fourth of an inch in depth, as one of the
evidences of the severities which had been in-
flicted upon her. The abbess at length succeeded
in reaching Rome, and became the guest of the
Convent of the Santa Trinita. A narrative of her
sufferings, and those of her associates, was afterward
given to the world, and excited the astonishment
and indignation of Europe.

The question arises, were these statements true?
and were barbarities such as these inflicted in the
nineteenth century, and in a Christian country ?
The answer is, that the Russian government has
never succeeded in disproving them, though many
corroborative evidences have been furnished by
those who took sides with the persecuted abbess.
Another inquiry which suggests itself is, if the in-
fliction of these barbarities be admitted, were they



OF NICHOLAS THE FIRST. 161

perpetrated with the knowledge and under the
orders of the czar? The answer to this question
would seem undoubtedly to be, that they were ; be-
cause in Russia, so absolute was the jurisdiction of
the czar ; so obsequious were his servants to obey
him in every thing, and never to act except under
his express orders; so universal is the presence
of the police ; and so complete is the information
which is conveyed to the central- government, of
every thing which occurs throughout the whole em-
pire, that it is absurd to suppose that such extraor-
dinary events should have been transpiring in Rus-
sia proper, during a period of ten years, and yet
the czar remain in ignorance of them, or not have
become perfectly familiar with their most minute
details. Nevertheless, there is one fact in existence
which justice requires that we should mention;
and which may seem to be an argument in favour
of the falsity, or at least of the exaggeration, of the
current accounts which exist in reference to the
treatment of the nuns of Minsk. In 1845, the Em-
peror Nicholas visited Rome, in connection with
other European capitals. The Abbess Makrena
was resident in that city at that time. Her narra-
tive of the sufferings which she and her associates
had endured, had become well known throughout
Europe. She had even made special statements

14*



162 THE LIFE AND REIGN

on the subject to the Pope. If, therefore, his Holi-
ness gave full credence to these reports, it is pro-
bable that he would have received the czar with
coldness, perhaps with rudeness and incivility ; yet,
when the czar arrived at Rome, the Pope sent a
deputation of cardinals to receive him ; and during
the period of his sojourn in the Eternal City, ex-
tended to him, to the fullest extent, the evidences
of his utmost regard and consideration. Was this
done because the Pope did not believe the reports
which had startled all Europe ? Or was he governed
in his conduct by a spirit of policy and subser-
viency, which induced, or compelled, him to over-
look the most brutal acts of despotic barbarity,
heard of in modern times ?



OF NICHOLAS THE FIRST. 163



CHAPTER XIV.

LITERATURE OP RUSSIA THE FOUR GREAT LITERARY NAMES OF RUSSIA
SKETCH OF THE GREATEST OF THEM, KARAMSIN MORE RECENT
EMINENT MEN OF LETTERS NICHOLAS PATRONIZES THE DIPLOMATIC,
ENGINEERING, AND MILITARY SCHOOLS LANGUAGE OF RUSSIA IN-
DIFFERENCE OF NICHOLAS TO SCIENCES, AND BRANCHES OF LEARNING,
WHICH WERE USELESS IN WAR.

IT is with pleasure that we turn away from these
continual though necessary details of persecution,
of conquest, and of aggression, to seek in the his-
tory of this great czar something which appertains
to the nobler arts of peace ; and which refers to the
advancement of education, science, and literature,
among his subjects.

But it must be confessed, that the materials which
the career of Nicholas furnishes, for narratives of
this description, are meagre in the extreme; and
that even the patronage which he did afford to in-
stitutions and men of learning, was clouded over
with war's grim and gloomy visage, and was in-
tended only to prepare them for more effective ser-
vice, in its bloody and disastrous scenes.

Only four great names exist in Russian literature.



164 THE LIFE AND REIGN

These are Lomonosoff, Sclmkowski, Pouschkin, and
Karamsin. The first of these was celebrated as a
classical scholar. He flourished in the sixteenth
century, and translated into the Russ language the
works of Homer, Plato, Horace, and Ovid. Until
then, the very names of these classic writers were
unknown to the Muscovites. Schukowski was an
imitator of the German style of literature ; and his
works abound in vast masses of unwieldy literary
lumber. Pouschkin is the most eminent poet of
Russia. He was a man of original, vigorous, and
impassioned poetic fire, and has been compared, by
the most discerning critics, to Byron. But the
name which is most widely and eminently known
in Russian literature, is that of Karamsin the his-
torian.

Nicholas yon Karamsin was born on the 13th of
December, 1765, in the government of Vimbersk.
In his youth he was educated at the University of
Moscow, where he received the particular instruc-
tions of John Schnaden, the celebrated professor of
philosophy at that university. On leaving the uni-
versity, Karamsin entered the imperial Garde du
Corps ; and in the years 1789 to 1791 he travelled
through the various countries of Europe, and en-
larged his mind by a familiarity with the laws,
society, and government, of the European states.



OF NICHOLAS THE FIRST. 105

His first work contained the fruits of his observa-
tions abroad, and was published in four volumes,
under the title, "Letters of a Russian Traveller."
From 1792 to 1803, Karamsin resided at Moscow,
engaged in various literary works. The Emperor
Alexander then appointed him to the high and
honourable post of Historiographer of the Russian
Empire. In 1816 he removed to St. Petersburg,
and the same year were published the first eight
volumes of his celebrated History of the Russian
Empire. For this performance he was rewarded
with the rank of Honorary Counsellor of State,
with the Order of St. Anne of the first class. In
1821 the ninth volume of this work appeared, and
in 1823 the tenth and eleventh volumes. In 1824
he was promoted to the dignity of Actual Coun-
sellor of State. In 1825 he wrote the celebrated
manifesto which Nicholas I. published on his acces-
sion to the throne.* In the year 1826 he completed
the twelfth volume of his history, which brought
his narrative of events down to the reign of Mi-
chael, the grandfather of Peter the Great, and the
founder of the illustrious dynasty of the Romanoffs.
In 1826 he died, without having been able to com-
plete his great work. He was carried off by a pul-

* See Schnitzler's Diplom. History of Alexander I. and Nicholas.
London, 1848.



166 THE LIFE AND REIGN

monary disease ; but it was remarked that lie never
recovered from the shock which he received on the
death of the Emperor Alexander I.

Karamsin was honoured by the friendship and
esteem of the most illustrious men in Russia, and
especially by that of the two sovereigns, Alexander
and Nicholas. He expired in the Tauric Palace,
attended by the tenderest care of the young czar.
The latter had ordered the frigate Helena, only two
days previous to his death, to be in readiness to
convey Karamsin and his family to the more genial
clime of Italy. He was buried with extraordinary
honours in the churchyard of the great Convent of
St. Alexander Newsky, on the 6th of June. His
funeral was attended by the emperor, by the most
distinguished officers of state, and by a vast con-
course of the inhabitants of St. Petersburg, among
whom he was respected and revered. Nicholas had
displayed his munificence by bestowing upon him
an annuity of 50,000 rubles for his lifetime ; which
sum, after his death, was generously continued
during the lives of all the members of his family.

For several years Karamsin had been the editor
of the European Mercury, and at other times, of
the leading Russian journals in the department of
belles-lettres. The following are his most celebrated
literary productions. Five volumes of poems en-



OP NICHOLAS THE FIRST. 1G7

titled, Aglaja and Aonides; Letters of a Russian
Traveller, in four volumes; The Pantheon of Fo-
reign Literature ; The Pantheon of National Lite-
rature; a historical novel entitled Possadniza, or
the Subjugation of Novogorod; a selection of Ly-
rical Poems ; Historical Fragments and Miscellanies.
As a poet, he was a writer of genius and power.
His chief merit, however, is as an historian. As
an annalist, he is thorough, clear, impartial, and
writes with elegance and accuracy, and has the
faculty of investing the dryest themes with attrac-
tive interest.

The more recent developments in Russian litera-
ture, though they have not produced any great
names, have nevertheless brought into existence
a few writers whose labours have thrown some
lustre on the Russian name. Kamakoff has, during
the reign of Nicholas, written several tragedies and
lyrical compositions which are original in their cha-
racter, and display considerable dramatic power.
Kryloff has produced fables which compare favour-
ably with those of Lafontaine and Phsedrus. Gogol
was the author of satires which possess a degree of
wit which places him nearly beside Swift and Addi-
son. Of poets of a recent date Russia may boast ;
for she can enumerate the names of Wiasemski,
Madam Pauloff, and the Countess Rostopchin ; to-



THE LIFE AND REIGN

gether with the eccentric but gifted Lermontoff,
who was killed in an unfortunate duel in Circassia.
Of novelists, there are Mouranieff, Sagoschkin, and
Batuschkoff. Balgurin is celebrated as a journalist.
Nicholas Gertsch has rendered brilliant services in
the cause of the national language, by publishing
numerous editions of his Russian grammar, the
best which has yet appeared.

Nicholas established, at an early period of his
reign, a rigid censorship of the press; and this
measure has had the effect of retarding, in a very
great degree, the free development of the intellec-
tual resources of the nation. The consequence
is, a greater degree of ignorance among the priest-
hood, and a lower grade of literary attainment
among the teachers of the schools. Among the
higher clergy, a man .of extensive learning is an
occasional phenomenon, due more to the influence
of German theological erudition, which some-
times succeeds in permeating the ranks of the
ecclesiastics, than to the genius of Russian litera-
ture.

On the other hand, all the patronage and assist-
ance which Nicholas extended to learning, in his
dominions, were principally confined to the diplo-
matic schools, and those of topographical surveys^
These he patronized with the partial affection of a



OF NICHOLAS THE FIRST. It JO

father, inasmuch as its members would be made
directly serviceable to the interests of the govern-
ment. As an example of the patronage which
Nicholas bestowed upon the other and more ele-
vated departments of letters, it may be mentioned,
that Lomonosoff and Pouschkin, two poets of high
distinction, were banished by him, to serve as
privates in the army in Circassia, for writing too
freely on politics ; and that Bestucheff expiated
with his life, his rashness in supporting the con-
spiracy of 1825, in favour of a liberal constitution
for Russia.

The language of Russia is represented as being
admirably adapted as a vehicle for the development
of a rich and valuable literature, were it not that,
the best aspirations of native genius are all crushed
by the iron hand of a jealous despotism. The lan-
guage is described as being at once fluent and con-
cise, pliable and vigorous, tender and stern ; as re-
dundant in imagery, laconic in axiom, graceful in
courtesy, strong in argument, soothing in feeling,
and tremendous in denunciation. The latent ener-
gies of the language furnish an evidence of what
its literature might have become, under more genial
and propitious auspices. Karamsin has done more
than any. other writer to develop the resources of

15



170

the language, and to give it an established form
and consistency.*

In St. Petersburg, tlie two most liberally-endowed
institutions devoted to instruction, are the Mining
and the Forest Schools, which are in Russia deno-
minated corps. They are located in large and
splendid palaces; and as their purpose is directly
intended to promote the interests of the govern-
ment, both in war and in peace, they received the
special attention of Nicholas. The interests of the
state are the main object constantly kept in view in
these schools. The system of education pursued, is
precisely similar to that of the Polytechnic School
of Paris. It is entirely military. As soon as the
scholars leave these institutions, they are provided
with situations under the government. Nicholas
frequently visited these pet institutions in person.
He occasionally arose from his bed at midnight;
and entering a one-horse droschki, made a solitary

* Dobrowsky divides the Slavonic dialects into two classes:

A. The south-eastern.

1. The Russian ecclesiastical language, or the old Slavonic; 2. The
Russian; 3. The Serbish, (Illyrian;) 4. The Croatish; 5. The Wendish,
spoken in Camiola, Styria, and Carinthia.

B. The north-western.

1. The Slovac ; 2. The Bohemian ; 3. The Wendish, in Upper Lu-
gatia ; 4. The Wendish, in Lower Lusatia ; 5. The Polish, with the
Silesian dialect.



OF NICHOLAS THE FIRST. 171

tour of inspection to these schools. On entering
the sleeping apartments, his first glance, true as
ever to physical interests, *was at the thermometer.
If it did not range precisely at the prescribed figure
of fourteen degrees, he punished the neglect of the
official with severity. He then examined the beds,
pulled off the bedclothes, scrutinized the linen ; and
sometimes when pleased, and in a good humour, he
challenged the children to wrestle with him ; and
it was not an uncommon sight, to behold half a
dozen lads clinging convulsively around the tall
form of the czar, and attempting their utmost to
throw the ruler of sixty-five millions of people upon
the floor.*

It is a circumstance worthy of note, that during
the long reign of Nicholas, which extended for
thirty years, while vast accessions were constantly
made, to the territories of his empire ; while his re-
nown as a statesman and as a warrior became more
and more exalted, and the physical forces of his vast
realms became more and more effectively developed ;
and while his subjects beheld the example of other
and surrounding nations, who were achieving great
and honourable advances in the pathway of science

* Pictures of St. Petersburg, by Jerrman, p. 53.



172 THE LIFE AND REIGN

and literature; the Russian nation accomplished
very little in the same direction. Those many mil-
lions of rational intellects, with comparatively few
exceptions, during those thirty years, either re-
mained dormant in the ignoble sleep of ignorance ;
or else confined their energies to the attainment
only of physical ends and advantages, regardless of
the nobler wants and necessities of the immortal
mind.



OF NICHOLAS THE FIRST. 173



CHAPTER XV.

PERSONAL QUALITIES OF NICHOLAS HIS PHYSICAL APPEARANCE HIS
MENTAL QUALITIES HIS CLAIMS TO BEING A COIEAT MAN HIS DES-
POTIC SPIRIT HIS CRUELTIES THE OWNER OF TWENTY MILLIONS
OF SERFS^FAVOURABLE FEATURES OF HIS CHARACTER HIS INTRE-
PIDITY HIS QUALITIES AS A HUSBAND AND FATHER HIS AMOROUS
INTRIGUES.

NICHOLAS I. was so remarkable a personage both
in regard to his individual qualities, and with refer-
ence to his exalted station, and his historical conse-
quence, that a close and accurate examination of his
attributes and characteristics, is both a pleasing and
an instructive study.

Let us then boldly enter the audience chamber of
the great czar. Let us approach to the foot of the
august throne on which he sits. Let us elevate our
eyes to the colossus who occupies it; and then
boldly and even impertinently scrutinize the man,
and the monarch, before whose power so many mil-
lions, in so many climes, have quailed and trembled.

And first, in regard to his physical appearance, it
is certainly true, that if ever a human being seemed
intended for a monarch, by the possession of exterior

" 15*



174 THE LIFE AND REIGN

advantages of a majestic figure, and high and kingly
bearing, it was the Czar Nicholas. His person was
six feet three inches in height. It was moulded in
nature's finest proportions. He was beyond ques-
tion the handsomest man in his court or empire.
His features were regular, dignified, and pleasing,
with but one exception. His eye was the eye of a
despot. It seemed to scan with cold, penetrating,
unsympathizing severity, every one who came be-
neath his observation. He delighted to witness its
effects upon his courtiers, and to see the proudest,
the bravest, and the most illustrious, recoil from his
glance, and cower before him. Sufficiently appre-
ciating, as he did, his superior physical advantages,
he took considerable pains to set them forth with
the greatest effect. He was very attentive to his
dress; usually wore the stiff though brilliant uni-
form of a general officer ; and was in the habit of
carrying the custom of tight-lacing so prevalent in
the Russian army, to such an immoderate extent,
that it seriously injured his health. Though pos-
sessing great breadth of shoulder, he must needs
also sport a wasp-like waist ; and to accomplish this
end, he endured a degree of tight-lacing, from
which a Parisian loreite might, and probably would,
have resolutely rebelled! It is said, that he often
fainted, after having ungirthed himself; and it. is



OP NICHOLAS THE FIRST. 175

supposed that this pernicious habit contributed very
materially to shorten his life.

The features of Nicholas were strictly Grecian.
His forehead and nose were in one continuous line.
His mouth was regular ; his teeth were fine ; and a
dark mustache .and small whiskers traversed the
centre of his face. His general expression was that
of command, accompanied with boldness, resolu-
tion, and a freezing, heartless dignity.

The mental qualities and characteristics of the
czar were equally remarkable; although here the
same phenomenon presents itself, that of a cluster
of great qualities, marred by the presence of one car-
dinal defect which tarnished the lustre of the whole.
As the eye of Nicholas condemned his face and per-
son, so the absence of human sympathy stamped his
mental and moral nature as repulsive, and as devoid
of the attractive and pleasing principle.

The talents of Nicholas as the administrator of the
affairs of a vast and heterogeneous empire were of a
high order. He was able to grasp an infinite variety
of details, and to introduce consistency and harmony
throughout all the ramifications of the government.
But that government was pre-eminently a despotic
one. Nicholas was a greater tyrant than any of his
predecessors, than Peter the Great, than Catherine
II. , than Paul I. So many successive reigns, the con-



176 THE LIFE AND REIGN

tinual -policy of which was to perfect the absolutism
of the central government, had brought the tree of
despotism to its fullest growth. The additional aid
which war and European science had given him and
his agents, had introduced throughout his domi-
nions a vast levelling system ; and the throne alone
then towered, in awful and terrific majesty, above
the wide and monotonous waste of his empire, like
Mont Blanc shooting far upward into the heavens
from the midst of a boundless and uniform desert.

Nicholas had not indeed the brutal instincts of
Peter the Great; neither had he his great talents.
He would never have accomplished much for the
improvement of his dominions and the education of
his people, had he been placed in the same situation
in which that founder of the empire was placed.
.Nicholas had not the disordered passions of his
grandmother, the voluptuous Catherine ; neither had
he her capacious mind, her enlightened views, her
benevolence, her womanly tenderness, her brilliancy
of intellect. If he did not, like her, convert his
palace into a temple of Venus, he could not, as did
she, permit his subjects to enjoy every liberty, social,
political, and intellectual, and especially religious,
which did not directly impede the march of her
government. Nicholas was not the man, in a mo-
ment of trivial frivolity, to shoot down, for a wager,



OF NICHOLAS THE FIRST. 177

a poor female slave working in his garden, as did
his brother Constantine; nor would he, like Con-
stantine, have resigned the brilliant throne of all
the Russias, to allay the apprehensions, and to dry
the tears, of a woman whom he loved.

In truth, it may be said that Nicholas was the
most destructive and cruel despot, who disgraced
the nineteenth century ; and facts will amply justify
this apparently severe declaration. Without talents
of the highest order, he possessed just enough of
clearness of purpose, of resolution, of perseverance,
and of sagacity, to enable him to see what measures
tended most to increase the omnipotence of his
throne ; and to pursue the accomplishment of those
measures, even though his pathway led through
seas of human blood, and amid the groans, and
agonies, and even ruin, of millions of men. During
the thirty years of his reign, more persons have
been computed to have perished by various means,
of which he was the cause and the agent, than in all
the preceding reigns, until the time of Peter the
Great inclusive. Thus, men were not punished,
during his reign, in the same barbarous manner, as
they were by some of his predecessors. They were
not impaled alive. They were not burned to death.
They were not hanged up by iron hooks inserted in
their ribs, and left thus to die. But it is a fact, which



178 THE LIFE AND REIGN

cannot be controverted, that during the reign of
Nicholas, whole companies of Polish prisoners were
whipped to death ; that the knout and the battogues
were inflicted upon myriads for political offences ;
that these wretches, after having thus had their flesh
torn away in strips from the bone, were the next
day compelled to commence on foot their dreary
journey to Siberia ; and that multitudes perished in
a few days, on the way. It is an ascertained fact,
that during his long reign, Nicholas I. condemned
at least two hundred and fifty thousand persons to
the mines of Siberia for life ; nearly all of whom
were merely political offenders, whose only crime
had been, that they had dared to dream, and some-
times also to speak, of freedom ! Add to all these,
the multitudes who have been swept away by the
rude storms of war; who have fallen beneath the
pestilence and famine, and at the cannon's mouth ;
who, had it not been for his insatiable aggressions,
had enjoyed the blessings of peace; and we will
form a true, and certainly an unprejudiced, opinion
of the character and influence of the czar.*

Nicholas, true to his despotic instincts, was the
possessor of twenty millions of slaves, who belonged



* See facts stated in "Revelations in Russia in 1844," London,
Colburn, 1845.



OF NICHOLAS THE FIRST. 179

absolutely to his personal domain. Every year he
increased the number of his slaves by lending money
to the nobles on their serfs ; and every year he ap-
propriated to himself a large portion of them, as
unredeemed pledges. In truth, the tendency of the
reign of Nicholas was, to obliterate and destroy all
national interest in Russia, and to promote the
interests of the house of Romanoffs as the only
supreme and important power in the empire ; to
which the government, the army, the navy, the peo-
ple, and the church, were all to be subordinate and
contributory.

The highest praise which has ever been bestowed
upon the mental qualities of Nicholas refers to his
presence of mind, and to the fortitude which he dis-
played on several critical occasions. His intrepidity
and self-possession will not be denied. One evi-
dence of these qualities we have already given, in
the conspiracy which occurred at his accession. On
another occasion, when the cholera visited St. Pe-
tersburg, the population became frenzied with ter-
ror and ignorance, and attributed the scourge to
the supposition 'that the foreigners, the physicians,
and the Poles, had poisoned all the springs. Many
murders took place daily. At length a vast crowd


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11 12 13 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 9 of 23)