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THE LATE EMPEROR OF RUSSIA.
THE recent death of the Emperor
1 Nicholas affords a fit occasion for placing on record some memorials of his life, with such reflections as may be suggested by an impartial survey of his career.
Nicholas was born in the year 1796. His birth took place at Gatshina, an Imperial country-seat about thirty miles from St. Petersburg. He was the third son of the Emperor Paul I. His elder brothers, Alexander and Constantine, were educated under the eye of the Empress-grandmother, Catharine, according to the French system in vogue during the latter part of the eighteenth century. Nicholas and his younger brother, Michael, remained in charge of their mother, a princess of Würtemberg. She was a woman of great purity of mind, of just and elevated sentiments, and of warm domestic affections. Both of the brothers were children at the time of the terrible catastrophe, in which the life of their father was sacrificed. They could only remember him by the acts of paternal fondness which they were not too young to experience.
After the accession of Alexander I. to the throne, the Empress-mother continued to devote herself, with conscientious fidelity, to the education of her children. To her example and influence, the Emperor Nicholas was doubt. less greatly indebted for his strong religious convictions, his masculine sense of honor, and the prevailing earnestness of his character. Among his early instructors, the most prominent was Storch, the celebrated writer on Political Economy, whom Nicholas was accustomed to refer to in after life with emphatic gratitude and commendation. The imperial pupil possessed a ready and tenacious memory, and uncommon quickness of perception; but the tendency of his intellect was more in the direction of the military sciences, engineering, and fortification, than of literature. After the overthrow of Bonaparte, the two brothers traveled over Europe, visiting England and the most celebrated capitals on the Continent. One of the Imperial party on this journey, was the well-known Prince Pashkiewitch, at that time a Lieutenant-General in the Russian service. In 1817,
Nicholas was married to a Princess of Prussia, sister of the present king. This union proved singularly happy. His wife was a woman of admirable consistency of character, remarkable for the modesty of her deportment, her mild and affectionate disposition, and her de. cided domestic tastes. From the period of his marriage, Nicholas led the life of a quiet private citizen, entering, with keen zest, into the pleasures of his fireside, and devoting himself to the happiness of his family, his mother, and a few intimate friends and favorites, to whom he was greatly attached. He found employment for his time in the cultivation of his talent for drawing and painting, and in military exercises with his regiments of guards.
In 1823, his brother Constantine, the heir-apparent to the crown, resigned his claims to the succession, and Nicholas took his seat at the cabinet councils, which were held, for the most part, under the direction of Count Araktsheff, whom Alexander, in the last years of his reign, had entrusted with almost unlimited power. The Count was of a haughty and domineering temper, violent in his prejudices, repulsive in his manners, and accustomed to treat almost every one with a certain degree of contempt, not even always excepting the young Imperial councilor. The presence of Nicholas at the meetings of the cabinet was, indeed. a mere formality. At that time, he had given no promise of his future greatness, nor was the vigor of his character suspected even by his most familiar friends. He was regarded by the court, and by the public in general, as a man of ordinary stamp, without any presage of the qualities which subsequently ripened in the energetic, impulsive, and persistent Czar. Not that he ever assumed the mask of the hypocrite to conceal his natural endowments. Whatever may have been his faults, no one could justly charge him with insincerity. Both in his public and private relations, and to the latest moment of his life, his open and ingenuous disposition was free from every stain of duplicity. The germs of the eminence which he attained as sovereign of a vast empire were latent in his organization. They were quickened into life, and luxuriantly developed by his accession to power, and by the electric influence of mighty events.
In the autumn of 1825, Alexander went to Taganrog, a port on the sea of Azoff, for the benefit of his own declin ing health, and that of his wife the Empress Elizabeth. His condition was soon aggravated by an attack of the Crimean fever, and, after a short ill ness, he breathed his last. During the various stages of his malady-as no telegraph of any kind had then been introduced into Russia-couriers were dispatched at least once a day from Taganrog to St. Petersburg, with bulletins from the physicians, announcing the state of the Emperor's health. About twelve hours before his death, a remarkable ameliora. tion in his disease was apparent, and the intelligence was immediately announced to the Imperial family. As soon as it reached the capital, a thanks. giving service was ordered in the chapel of the palace, at which the Empress mother, Nicholas, the rest of the family, and a few of the most intimate attendants on the Court, were present. On this occasion, Nicholas, for the first time probably, exhibited that devotion to his family and his country, and those energetic traits of character, which had hitherto escaped even the watchful eye of his fond mother.
Scarcely had the service begun, when another courier arrived with the tidings of the Emperor's death. The dispatch, whose contents were anticipated by the ominous black seal, was handed at once to Nicholas. He stepped to the priest, and the Te Deum was interrupted. The Empress-mother, who was seated in a chair near the altar, understood the meaning of the interruption, and fainted on the spot. Restored to conscious. ness, she exclaimed, “ Poor Russia," probably distrusting the good faith of Constantine's resignation, and dreading a bloody strife between the brothers, with the inevitable consequence of civil war. Nicholas instantly beckoned to the priest, and ordering him to bring the Gospel and the Cross before his mother, immediately took the oath of allegiance to his elder brother, then residing in Warsaw. The mournful news was directly forwarded from Taganrog to Constantine. Its reception placed
him in a painful dilemma. For nearly · two days he hesitated to confirm his re
signation, and to relinquish forever the hope of wearing the Russian crown. His better genius at length prevailed, and he sent his final decision to St. Petersburg, with his oath of allegiance to his brother Nicholas. Previously, however, in accordance with a senatorial ukase, the oath of allegiance to Constantine had been taken by the authorities in St. Petersburg, and in other parts of the Empire.
The discontented spirits in the capital, who had been seeking the opportunity for an outbreak, endeavored to take advantage of the occasion for the furtherance of their schemes. The mass of the people and of the soldiers were thrown into a state of dismal perplexity. Nicholas was represented as a usurper. Public feeling was excited against him, although the conspiracy, in fact, was directed, not against his person, but against the principle of autocracy. The insurrection broke out on the very day that was appointed for taking the oath of allegiance to the new Emperor. It was headed by several officers of the Guards, whose influence with the soldiery gained them over to the movement. The details of this unfortunate enterprise are generally familiar to the public; but the following incident has never before appeared in print.
The rendezvous of the Guards for paying their salute to Nicholas, on his accession to the Crown, was on the immense square before the Imperial Palace. It had been already rumored that some of the regiments in the barracks had, determined not to take the oath. The people were roused to a high pitch of excitement in regard to the alleged usurpation, and began to gather in dark and threatening groups. The staff of the Emperor, with his aides-de-camp, many of whom commanded different regiments, went to the barracks to summon the soldiers to the rendezvous. Nicholas, accompanied only by a single person, the Baron Dellingshausen, a captain in the guards, appeared on the peristyle of the palace, to meet the people. The cry tumultuously arose from the crowd—" You are not the lawful Czar; you ought not to wrong your brother!" Nicholas stood calmly before the frantio multitude, and attempted to give a true explanation of the case. Different battalions, chiefly composed of the conspirators, already stood on the opposite side, shouting the name of Constantino
and of “ Constitution," which, following the instructions of the officer, they believed to be the name of his wife. One of the generals, Baron Fredericks, who commanded a regiment of the Emperor's body-guard, had been wounded at the barracks. The colonel commanding under him, a Swiss, named Stuerler, was killed on the spot, by a stroke of the sword in the hands of Prince Shepine. Rostoffsky, a captain of a company, and one of the leading conspirators. The general was brought into the palace senseless, with the gaping wound in his throat, and carried before the Emperor. At the same moment a company of the regiment of Preobrajensky, led by captain Nassacken, marched rapidly towards the peristyle, halted at the distance of some thirty yards, and loaded their pieces at the command of the officer. For Nicholas, it was a moment of terrible suspense. He could not avoid the presumption that the soldiers before him were a band of armed conspirators. Turning quickly to Dellingshausen, he said, “I remain where I am. Do you go into the palace, and tell the Empress to conceal the hereditary Grand Duke.” In the midst of personal danger, it was his principal care to preserve the life of the legitimate and direct successor to the throne. Dellingshausen went into the palace as directed, while the Czar remained alone to face the gathering tempest. The company of soldiers, after loading their pieces, resumed their precipitate march, penetrated the crowd, cleared the space before the peristyle, formed in a square, and turned their bayonets against the multitude. It was only then that Ni. cholas became aware of the friendly intention of the soldiers, who were the first to hasten to his rescue from the infuriated populace.
Upon the arrival of the loyal regi. ments at the Palace, they drew up in line, opposite the insurgents—the Czar, was again surrounded by a numerous staff, including all the generals in command, and the Grand Duke Michael, galloped off to the revolted troops, to demand an explanation of their conduct. The grenadiers of the body-guard, supposed to be the most determined in their disaffection, on being asked, “What are you doing, boys?' presented arms, saying, “We revolt, your Imperial Highness.” Such were the elements at work.
The movement was soon suppressed. In justice to Nicholas, it must be said, that, he endeavored to avoid bloodshed, to the last extremity. He first ordered the artillery to fire over the heads of the the masses. This attempt proved ineffectual and he was vehemently urged by his brother, and the generals, to hesitate no longer. A second volley was fired killing and wounding about four hundred of the insurgents. They now scattered in every direction. They were not hotly pursued, and succeeded in making their escape. At a subsequent period, the principal leaders of the revolt, were brought to trial, before a special board of military Commissioners, and the different sentences, pronounced by them, were not set aside by the Emperor.
The accession of Nicholas to power, was, accordingly, by a thorny and bloodstained path. But from the very commencement of his reign, he resolved to present an example of governing the country by absolute will, without the ceremony of a constitution. His faith in the principle of autocracy, was boundless. He aimed at once to efface from the memory of his people, the tragic circumstance which inaugurated his reign. Every branch of the government was burdened with colossal abuses. Some of these abuses were inherent in the principle of despotism, but the greater number of them were the effect of maladministration. The youthful Czar engaged in the work of reform, with energy and self-devotion. For months he labored with such intensity, as to impair his eye-sight. He endeavored to surround himself with new men-men, who were distinguished in public opinion, as well as at court, for their talents and integrity. The various branches of the administration, were entrusted to such persons. He wished to employ them in the higher departments of the Government, replacing the men of mere routine and tradition, with younger and more gifted individuals. But his judgment of char. acter was far from infallible-in fact, he had little insight into human nature, and hence, though sometimes successful in the choice of his servants, he was often deceived by bold and ambitious pretenders. From this defect of perception, he never wholly recovered. He was obliged to make his selection from a comparatively limited number of
persons. In Russia, the administration is exclusively in the hands of the nobility, who, in respect of social and official position, are divided into fourteen classes. As a general rule, each class corresponds with a certain office, which cannot be filled by a person belonging to a higher or lower class. Promotion from one step to another in this scale, depends on the length of active service in each class; and accordingly the higher offices are bestowed in proportion to age, rather than to capacity. Senility is thus made to command a premium
Nicholas perceived the disastrous effects of such an organization, and soon after his accession to the throne, attempted to make every office dependent on an examination as to character and ability. But this reform, like many others, died in embryo. Still, he subjeeted the machinery of State to a partial, and, of course, somewhat superficial re-organization. But on the whole, he may justly be called a reformer, and, indeed, in many respects, is entitled to the name of a creator. He eradicated many evils, or at least changed their forms and mitigated their effects. On the other hand, however, he spread the seeds of new evils, which, in some cases, were no less deleterious in their action than those which they supplanted. His intentions, it cannot be denied, were noble and elevated. In judging of their character, we should regard them from his own point of view. They always proceeded from deep and conscientious convictions. He executed many judicions reforms, while he abandoned others almost the moment after their conception. This vacillation in his policy forms one of the most remarkable features of his reign. Many of his best designs were frustrated by the cold and sullen opposition of those by whom he was surrounded. His own indecision added to the difficulty of execution. In the beginning of his reign, he proposed to alleviate the censorship of foreign and domestic publications, and to enlarge the freedom of the press. But in the course of his administration, the censorship became more severe than before. He was deeply convinced of the paralyzing influence of serfdom upon the national welfare and development. He sincerely desired its abolition, or at least, its essential modification. Yet serfdom survives him, subject to the same conditions as when he ascended
the throne. Nicholas wished to transform the serfs into owners of homesteads, on conditions not burdensome to them, or ruinous to the nobility, who beretofore had enjoyed absolute possession of the soil. He issued a ukase on this subject, but its provisions were never carried into effect. Afterwards, he proposed to secure the homestead as a dependence on the landlord, submitting the relations between proprietors and laborers to stringent rules, and placing every detail under the safeguard of the law. With this view he published a ukase concerning inventories, or the labor due from the serf to the proprietor, stating the remuneration to be received by the farmer in arable land, pasturage, houses, cattle, and the like; but this ukase also failed to be put into execution.
The principal cause of this apparent unsteadiness of purpose in Nicholas was a deficiency of intellectual power. He was able to conceive and comprehend the general features of any important combination in this respect, he was superior to all the Russian nobleinen in his councils, as well as to all contemporary sovereigns—but he had not the capacity to disentangle and master the details of a project, so as to complete its practical realization. For this, he was obliged to depend almost entirely upon his ministers and other official functionaries. But they were usually opposed to his plans, and would lend no aid to their accomplishment. The narrowness of their mental vision, their long-cherished prejudices, their dread of innovation, and their attachment to the ancient, musty routine, forbade them to sympathize with his purposes, and arrayed them in hostility to his suggestions. No one, not even the most bitter enemy of Nicholas, can call in question his good intentions, or deny that he aimed at the highest good of his Empire. He wished to develop the intellectual powers of the nation, as well as to expand its immeasurable resources of a material character. But he attempted an impossibility in excluding from the motive powers, by which he would act on mind and matter, the most inspiring principle of human action-the love of liberty. In his opinion, Russia was never to throw off the swaddlingclothes of infancy. He committed numerous blunders some of them proceeding from his temper, others from the
defects of his intellect; but they are construction of roads and canals of chiefly to be ascribed to the impossibility every description, the working of the of combining progressive civilization mines, and the charge of public buildwith the principle of authority, or worse ings, were all subjected to military still, with the exercise of privilege regulations. Nicholas, himself, planned
It is beyond the scope of this article and directed the construction of various to unfold the successive acts and events fortresses in person. He also cherished of his reign, or to trace the steps by a strong predilection for architecture. which his character became tempered He built several magnificent edifices; to the hardness of steel. Everything for example, the Church of St. Isaac. tended to inspire Nicholas with a sense He restored and embellished the Kremof his own infallibility. He became lin, and various other palaces, in St. dogmatic in judgment and arbitrary in Petersburg and Moscow, and in other will. His capacities gained new strength towns of the Empire. Nearly all the by exercise, his devotion to business architectural plans of public edifices, increased his knowledge of affairs, and especially in the cities which were the all his resources were conscientiously seats of any administrative departments, devoted to the administration of the were submitted to his inspection and government. Still he often proved un approval. equal to the task. In the early portion The first trial of his autocratic prinof his reign, he consulted freely with his ciples, in relation to the general policy ministers and favorites, relying, in a of Europe, was occasioned by the revogreat degree, on their opinions, and lution of 1830, and the insurrection of permitting himself to be guided by their Poland. Nicholas was crowned as King superior information and experience. of Poland, in Warsaw, in the year 1829. But, subsequently, he grasped the reins He took the constitutional oath, and acof empire with a strong hand, making cepted the position conscientiously : use of his advisers as instruments to but, doubtless, not very willingly. He accomplish his plans. In this respect, decided to give a faithful adherence to he followed the example of Louis XIV.. the Constitution, as it had been transin his advanced age.
mitted to him by his predecessor. Its Among the most important acts of main guaranties, such as the liberty of his government, was the formation of a the press, personal freedom, the pubsystematic legal code, together with the licity of the deliberations of the Diet, melioration of the criminal law, includ and many others, had been successively ing the abolition of the knout as a mode violated since 1819, by the Emperor of punishment. In his principles of Alexander, and his obsequious agent in political economy, he was a decided Poland, the Grand Duke Constantine. protectionist. The prosperity of Rus. To all these encroachments, the nation sia was greatly promoted under this sys- submitted silently, though sullenly. The tem, and to its early adoption she is now conspiracy, discovered in the year 1825, indebted for her power to resist the was not caused by the violation of the combined resources of the coalition. Constitution, but aimed at the restoraHe organized the army, and in fact, tion of ancient Poland. The nation at created the navy. His time was prin- large, accordingly, did not utter any cipally occupied with the details of the protest against the arbitrary changes military organization and the foreign in the Constitution. The immediate policy of the government. He wished functionaries who introduced these vioto reduce the whole nation to the strict lations, were Poles; men high in office, ness of military rule, believing that this and most of them belonging to families would be the most effectual check to the of the highest distinction in the kingprogress of a free spirit among the dom. Their influence produced a strong younger portions of the population. effect on public opinion. The ViceThus, le ordered the pupils in the King, his council, the council of state, gymnasiums and universities to wear and every minister, down to the lowest uniform, and placed these institutions official, were all Poles, as not a single under the superintendence of military Russian, at that time, could have been men. The medical and surgical schools employed. Nicholas took this mutilated in St. Petersburg were entirely under Constitution as he found it. He opened the control of the Minister of War. The the Diet in person, strictly enjoining on department of civil engineering, the the Polish ministers-who bad, hereto