ST. PETERSBURG had changed greatly from what it was when I left it in 1862. "Oh, yes, you knew the St. Petersburg of Chernyshévsky," the poet Máikoff remarked to me once. True, I knew the St. Petersburg of which Chernyshévsky was the favorite. But how shall I describe the city which I found on my return? Perhaps as the St. Petersburg of the cafés chantants,of the music halls, if the words "all St. Petersburg" ought really to mean the upper circles of society which took their keynote from the court.
At the court, and in its circles, liberal ideas were in sorely bad repute. All prominent men of the sixties, even such moderates as Count Nicholas Muravióff and Nicholas Milútin, were treated as suspects. Only Dmítri Milútin, the minister of war, was kept by Alexander II. at his post, because the reform which he had to accomplish in the army required many years for its realization. All other active men of the reform period had been brushed aside.
I spoke once with a high dignitary of the ministry for foreign affairs. He sharply criticised another high functionary, and I remarked in the latter's defense, Still, there is this to be said for him that he never accepted service under Nicholas I." "And now he is in service under the reign of Shuváloff and Trépoff!" was the reply, which so correctly described the situation that I could say nothing more.
General Shuváloff, the chief of the state police, and General Treépoff, the chief of the St. Petersburg police, were indeed the real rulers of Russia. Alexander II. was their executive, their tool. And they ruled by fear. Trépoff had so frightened Alexander by the spectre of a revolution which was going to break out at St. Petersburg, that if the omnipotent chief of the police was a few minutes late in appearing with his daily report at the palace, the Emperor would ask, "Is everything quiet at St. Petersburg?"
Shortly after Alexander had given an "entire dismissal" to Princess X., he conceived a warm friendship for General Fleury, the aide-de-camp of Napoleon III., that sinister man who was the soul of the coup d' état of December 2, 1852. They were continually seen together, and Fleury once informed the Parisians of the great honor which was bestowed upon him by the Russian Tsar. As the latter was riding along the Nevsky Prospekt, he saw Fleury, and asked him to mount into his carriage, an égoïste, which had a seat only twelve inches wide, for a single person; and the French general recounted at length how the Tsar and he, holding fast to each other, had to leave half of their bodies hanging in the air on account of the narrowness of the seat. It is enough to name this new friend, fresh from Compiègne, to suggest what the friendship meant.
Shuváloff took every advantage of the present state of mind of his master. He prepared one reactionary measure after another, and when Alexander showed reluctance to sign any one of them, Shuváloff would speak of the coming revolution and the fate of Louis XVI., and, "for the salvation of the dynasty," would implore him to sign the new additions to the laws of repression. For all that, sadness and remorse would from time to time besiege Alexander. He would fall into a gloomy meloncholy, and speak in a sad tone of the brilliant beginning of his reign, and of the reactionary character which it was taking. Then Shuváloff would organize a bear hunt. Hunters, merry courtiers, and carriages full of ballet girls would go to the forests of Nóvgorod. A couple of bears would be killed by Alexander II., who was a good shot, and used to let the animals approach within a few yards of his rifle; and there, in the excitement of the hunting festivities, Shuváloff would obtain his master's signature to any scheme of repression or robbery in the interest of his clients, which he had concocted.
Alexander II. certainly was not a rank-and-file man, but two different men lived in him, both strongly developed, struggling with each other; and this inner struggle became more and more violent as he advanced in age. He could be charming in his behavior, and the next moment display sheer brutality. He was possessed of a calm, reasoned courage in the face of a real danger, but he lived in constant fear of dangers which existed in his brain only. He assuredly was not a coward; he would meet a bear face to face; on one occasion, when the animal was not killed out-right by his first bullet, and the man who stood behind him with a lance, rushing forward, was knocked down by the bear, the Tsar came to his rescue, and killed the bear close to the muzzle of his gun (I know this from the man himself); yet he was haunted all his life by the fears of his own imagination and of an uneasy conscience. He was very kind in his manner toward his friends, but that kindness existed side by side with the terrible cold-blooded cruelty--a seventeenth century cruelty--which he displayed in crushing the Polish insurrection, and later on in 1880, when similar measures were taken to put down the revolt of the Russian youth; a cruelty of which no one would have thought him capable. He thus lived a double life, and at the period of which I am speaking, he merrily signed the most reactionary decrees, and afterward became despondent about them. Toward the end of his life this inner struggle, as will be seen later on, became still stronger, and assumed an almost tragical character.
In 1872 Shuváloff was nominated ambassador to England, but his friend General Potápoff continued the same policy till the beginning of the Turkish war in 1877. During all this time, the most scandalous plundering of the state exchequer, as also of the crown lands, the estates confiscated in Lithuania after the insurrection, the Bashkír lands in Orenbúrg, and so on, was proceeding on a grand scale. Several such affairs were subsequently brought to light and judged publicly by the Senate acting as a high court of justice, after Potápoff, who became insane, and Trépoff had been dismissed, and their rivals at the palace wanted to show them to Alexander II. in their true light. In one of these judicial inquiries it came out that a friend of Potápoff had most shamelessly robbed the peasants of a Lithuanian estate of their lands, and afterward, empowered by his friends at the ministry of the interior, he had caused the peasants, who sought redress, to be imprisoned, subjected to wholesale flogging, and shot down by the troops. This was one of the most revolting stories of the kind even in the annals of Russia, which teem with similar robberies up to the present time. It was only after Véra Zasúlich had shot at Trépoff and wounded him (to avenge his having ordered one of the political prisoners to be flogged in prison) that the thefts of Potápoff and his clients became widely known and he was dismissed. Thinking that he was going to die, Trépoff wrote his will, from which it became known that this man,who made the Tsar believe that he died poor, even though he had occupied for years the lucrative post of chief of the St. Petersburg police, left in reality to his heirs a considerable fortune. Some courtiers reported it to Alexander II. Trépoff lost his credit, and it was then that a few of the robberies of the Shuváloff-Potápoff-and-Trépoff party were brought before the Senate
The pillage which went on in all the ministries, especially in connection with the railways and all sorts of industrial enterprises, was really enormous. Immense fortunes were made at that time. The navy, as Alexander II. himself said to one of his sons, was "in the pockets of So-and-So." The cost of the railways, guaranteed by the state, was simply fabulous. As to commercial enterprises, it was openly known that none could be launched unless a specified percentage of the dividends was promised to different functionaries in the several ministries. A friend of mine, who intended to start some enterprise at St. Petersburg, was frankly told at the ministry of the interior that he would have to pay twenty-five per cent of the net profits to a certain person, fifteen per cent to one man at the ministry of finances, ten per cent to another man in the same ministry, and five per cent to a fourth person. The bargains were made without concealment, and Alexander II. knew it. His own remarks, written on the reports of the comptroller-general, bear testimony to this. But he saw in the thieves his protectors from the revolution, and kept them until their robberies became an open scandal.
The young grand dukes, with the exception of the heir apparent, afterward Alexander III., who always was a good and thrifty paterfarnilias, followed the example of the head of the family. The orgies which one of them used to arrange in a small restaurant on the Nevsky Prospekt were so degradingly notorious that one night the chief of the police had to interfere, and warned the owner of the restaurant that he would be marched to Siberia if he ever again let his "grand duke's room" to the grand duke. "Imagine my perplexity," this man said to me, on one occasion, when he was showing me that room, the walls and ceiling of which were upholstered with thick satin cushions. "On the one side I had to offend a member of the imperial family, who could do with me what he liked, and on the other side General Trépoff menaced me with Siberia! Of course, I obeyed the general; he is, as you know, omnipotent now." Another grand duke became conspicuous for ways belonging to the domain of psychopathy; and a third was exiled to Turkestan, after he had stolen the diamonds of his mother.
The Empress Marie Alexándrovna, abandoned by her husband, and probably horrified at the turn which court life was taking, became more and more a devotee, and soon she was entirely in the hands of the palace priest, a representative of a quite new type in the Russian Church, - the Jesuitic. This new genus of well-combed, depraved, and Jesuitic clergy made rapid progress at that time; already they were working hard and with success to become a power in the state, and to lay hands on the schools.
It has been proved over and over again that the village clergy in Russia are so much taken up by their functions - performing baptisms and marriages, administering communion to the dying, and so on - that they cannot pay due attention to the schools; even when the priest is paid for giving the Scripture lesson at a village school, he usually passes that lesson to some one else, as he has no time to attend to it himself. Nevertheless, the higher clergy, exploiting the hatred of Alexander II. toward the so-called revolutionary spirit, began their campaign for laying their hands upon the schools."No schools unless clerical ones" became their motto. All Russia wanted education, but even the ridiculously small sum of four million dollars included every year in the state budget for primary schools used not to be spent by the ministry of public instruction, while nearly as much was given to the Synod as an aid for establishing schools under the village clergy, - schools most of which existed, and now exist, on paper only.
All Russia wanted technical education, but the ministry - opened only classical gymnasia, because formidable courses of Latin and Greek were considered the best means of preventing the pupils from reading and thinking. In these gymnasia, only two or three per cent of the pupils succeeded in completing an eight years' course, - all boys promising to become something and to show some independence of thought being carefully sifted out before they could reach the last form; and all sorts of measures were taken to reduce the number of pupils. Education Was considered as a sort of luxury, for the few only. At the same time the ministry of education was engaged in a continuous, passionate struggle against all private persons and all institutions - district and county councils, municipalities, and the like - which endeavored to open teachers' seminaries or technical schools, or even simple primary schools. Technical education - in a country which was so much in want of engineers, educated agriculturists, and geologists - was treated as equivalent to revolutionism. It was prohibited, prosecuted; so that up to the present time, every autumn, something like two or three thousand young men are refused admission to the higher technical schools from mere lack of vacancies. A feeling of despair took Possession of all those who wished to do anything useful in public life; while the peasantry were ruined at an appalling rate by over-taxation, and by "beating out" of them the arrears of the taxes by means of semi-military executions, which ruined them for ever. Only those governors of the provinces were in favor at the capital who managed to beat out the taxes in the most severe way.
Such was the official St. Petersburg. Such was the influence it exercised upon Russia.