Tuesday, 25 November 2014


THOSE Englishmen, and there are many who still believe that Russia will retreat before the Turks, should study the account which Mr. Mackenzie Wallace has given in his remarkable book on Russia of the effects of the Crimean defeat. All Russia was at that time in the grasp of ultra-Tory administrators. The Emperor Nicholas had succeeded during his reign in making repression complete, till when the Crimean war broke out he was, perhaps, more absolutely master than any monarch had ever been. There was not only no resistance to his will anywhere, but apparently no wish to resist, the majority even of educated Russians being convinced that the autocracy, With all its oppressiveness, suited their country's needs. "In a nation accustomed to political life, and to a certain amount of self-government, any approach to the system of Nicholas would, of course, have produced wide-spread dissatisfaction and violent hatred against the ruling-power, But in Russia, at that time, no such feelings were awakened. The educated classes—and a fortiori the uneducated—were profoundly indifferent, not only to political questions, but also to ordinary public affairs, whether local or Imperial, and were quite content to leave them in the hands of those who were paid for attending to them. In common with the uneducated peasantry, the nobles had a boundless respect— one might almost say a superstitious reverence —nor only for the person, but also for the will of the Tsar, and were ready to show unquestioning obedience to his commands, so long as these did not interfere with their accustomed mode of life." The Crimean war was as popular as a crusade, and there was nothing in its conclusion to humiliate a reasonable national pride. Russia was defeated at last by three great Powers, England, France, and Austria—for it was the intervention of Austria in 1856 which made further resistance hopeless—and any State in the world might have yielded with dignity be fore such a combination. Nevertheless, the nation was profoundly moved. Its dream of equality with the West was rudely dissipated for ever. There are no party hatreds in Russia, all parties and classes being crushed too equally, and the wrath of the nation fell therefore with unbroken violence upon the Imperial system. The entire people awoke to a perception that the terrible sacrifices they had made had been use less ; that their organisation, the object of such rigorous tyranny, was worthless ; that their very army was weak, that the autocratic system had not made them masters abroad. Frightful pasquinades, in which the Czars were called on to come down from their throne, circulated in manuscript in St. Petersburg. The officials were so cowed by the storm of national scorn, that they with one accord proclaimed themselves Liberals. The Liberal tyranny became for a time as despotic as the Conservative. "Those who had formerly paraded their 'tchin' (official rank) on all occasions, in season and out of season, became half ashamed to admit that they had the rank of General, for the title no longer commanded respect, and had become associated with all that was antiquated, formal and stupid. Among the young generation it was used most disrespectfully as equivalent to 'pompous blockhead,' Zealous officials, who had lately regarded the acquisition of Stars and Orders as among the chief ends of man, were fain to conceal those hard-won trophies, lest some cynical 'Liberal' might notice them and make them the butt of his satire. 'Look at the depth of humiliation to which you have brought the country'—such was the chorus of reproach that was ever ringing in their ears—'with your red tape, your Chinese formalism, and your principle of lifeless, unreasoning, mechanical obedience ! You asserted constantly that you were the only true patriots, and branded with the name of traitor those who warned you of the insane folly of your conduct. You see now what it has all come to.'"  So universal was the feeling, that, had not Alexander II., partly from sympathy and partly from policy, headed the movement, and commenced immense reforms, ending in emancipation, there can be hardly a doubt that the Russian people, which always advances or recedes in great leaps and bounds, would have radically changed the organism of their Government. The very throne rocked, and but that Alexander, by his "wholly unexpected" decision and energy in the matter of emancipation, re-cemented his authority over the masses and broke the power of the noblesse, the autocracy to which with all his mildness he is devoted, might have crumbled before the public indignation. Explosions of feeling in Russia are always dangerous. The oneness of the people, their complete fusion beneath the terrible sway of the Czars, their surface impulsiveness, and their extreme tenacity upon a few subjects give to their movements enormous momentum, and the whole history of Russia is a series of violent rushes, followed by long periods of reactionary tranquility.
  It is one of these rushes which would follow a retreat of Russia from before Turkey. Mild by comparison as the Government of Czar Alexander has been, it was still repressive enough to make Russians long for an equivalent in the grandeur of Russia among the nations of the earth. Freedom is still entirely unknown ; men suspected of "bad intentions" still disappear suddenly from their usual haunts, either to be confined in prison or deported ; taxation is still exceedingly heavy ; whole masses of discontent, produced by the method of emancipation, are still fermenting; the army is still the most formidable power in the State, and its leaders the most potent personages. A grand humiliation felt peculiarly by the army would end in another explosion of rage, and this time the institution of serfage could not be made to bear all the blame. " What! our army, which absorbs our taxes and our children, and daily dominates over us, unable even to meet Turks; then the autocracy does not even make us strong." The cities would be full of libels. The officials would be full of the dread which tells so heavily in Russia— the dread of being thought barbarians, and denounced by all among whom they live The army would be full of discontents. The active revolutionists, though they have no longer emancipation to offer, have still much to propose to the soldiery, and much to complain of, as in 1850, in the astounding expenditure of the Imperial House; and Russia, quiet as her internal history appears to Englishmen, has known of terrible military mutinies. The Romanoffs have reason to dread Russian explosions, even if they did not feel that sacred dread of Pushkin's menace, "the knife hath an edge, and the scarf hath a fold," which never quits any man, be he Roman C├Žsar, or Russian Czar, or Paraguayan Dictator who has once ascended to the position where the horror of isolation, of the cruel loneliness which all autocrats feel, has been borne full upon his mind. No Czar of Russia, however steady-minded, no Government of Russia, however successful, will ever risk a true national movement against the aristocracy, even if the dangers of yielding to the popular policy should seem interminable. They feel, in face of that danger, as the much stronger Government of India feels about universal peasant revolt, —that no danger can be so vast, so multiform, or so terrible. There are occurrences no Government will risk— the English Government, for example, would do anything rather than create an insurrection in London—and the dreaded occurrence in Russia is a burst of humiliated rage, such as must follow a retreat before the most hated and most despised of traditionary foes, the Turk, who affronts the religious feeling of the peasants, the political feeling of the educated, and the humanitarian feeling of the upper classes. "For," says Mr. Mackenzie Wallace, perhaps the Englishman who best knows Russia, "strange as it may seem to those who cling to the old traditional conception of the Russian noble, I must say that I know no body of men who are more sensitive to humanitarian conceptions than the Russian educated classes. Their humanitarianism does not, perhaps, stand very well the wear and tear of every-day life, and is apt after a time to evaporate to a certain extent; but while it lasts it is very strong, and can drive them to make considerable sacrifices."

 The Queenslander  7 April 1877,

No comments: