Leonforte, coming to her side and patting her shoulder, "is the great motive power. I said it aloud in the Chamber. And they hung upon my lips, they of the Right, of the Left, of the Centre, as though they

heard the clink of coin and the rustle of

banknotes. There was a moment when I held them all in my hand. What a triumph was in preparation!"

This is their last conversation; an hour later he had left the house, bound whither he either knew not or would not tell, and Norina is left alone with her child, with a sufficient income forced on her, which she regards as unlawfully acquired, and with which she will deem it her duty to make all the reparation in her power. Thus ends this sad but able novel.


As readers must perceive, temporary Italian views of their own political men and methods, as depicted by their own writers, are neither hopeful nor noble, and furnish no worthy outcome of the efforts and sacrifices made but so recently on Italy's behalf by the men of a generation that has not even yet died. And already their traditions and aims seem dead! There appears to be a moral abyss between fathers and sons. Certainly neither the present situation nor the outlook is cheerful. We have purposely refrained from much comment, and have allowed the Italians to speak for themselves; the dark picture therefore proceeds from no foreign bias or misconception of men and events. Here is undoubtedly food for mournful consideration. Still, nations resemble individuals. Italy's successes were too sudden and vast, her head was turned, she grew conceited, and overestimated strength. She is now reaping the results of precipitation. With the consequent suffering has come reflection-these novels prove it-and reflection must ultimately reawaken her innate good sense, and she will return to the right path, so unfortunately abandoned. The present phase must be a passing one; so all Europe hopes and believes. The hour ere dawn is darkest. May this be Italy's pre-daylight moment.


From The Fortnightly Review. THE EMPRESS CATHARINE II. Except Joan of Arc, perhaps, no woman in modern history has attained true greatness. Yet there have been grandiose women, like Elizabeth and Maria Theresa, who, by their heroic temper or virile conduct of large policies, have won the kind of praise which Mirabeau in an extravagant moment bestowed on the daughter of Maria Theresa, when he wrote that the queen of France was the greatest man in the court of Louis XVI. Russia celebrates the centenary of the last of these women who have so imposed themselves on the imagination of Europe. Her story is romantic, her character of curious interest. In the Russia which she entered, in her own words, "a penniless girl," she was for a generation the "cynosure of nations," and the idol of the most renowned, if not the greatest intellects of her time. Tried, certainly, by the test of achievement so dear to history, "the Semiramis of the North," as Voltaire delighted to call her, deserved her title of "the Great." If her memory recalls more than one dark and infamous tragedy, she had but entered, as Machiavelli recommended, the school of her age. The line of Romanof awaits its Eschylus: Europe, which has seen her Borgias and her Baglionis, has not seen since the Claudian Cæsars a house so impiously stained with its own blood as that which gave autocrats to the Russias during the 17th and 18th centuries. How hard it is for the crimes about a throne to cover themselves with silence and the creeping forgetfulness of time!


It is January, 1744, and the Commandant of Stettin, Prince of AnhaltZerbst zu Dornburg, is keeping New Year festivities at his castle of Zerbst, when suddenly couriers from Berlin, couriers from St. Petersburg. throw every one into wild commotion. For the Czarina Elizabeth, casting about for a wife for her nephew, the young Grand Duke Peter of Holstein, nomi

nated heir-presumptive to all the Russias, has accepted advice from Frederick, soon to become "the Great." She is formally desirous of a visit from the Princess of Zerbst and her daughter, Sophie-Frederika, now fifteen years of age, and already noticeable for her good looks and good sense. Not a moment is to be lost. So eastward, northward, the sleighs hurry them through the white leagues of snow, to arrive within six weeks at the Russian court, now established in Moscow. With little state or ceremony, nevertheless, for the princely house of Zerbst is poor as it is ancient, Sophie's wardrobe, she informs us herself, consists just of three, or it may be four dresses, with twelve chemises. For here begins that singular autobiography; an unauthenticated fragment, it is true, but a self-portraiture convincing as any in literature. At Moscow they made the best of impressions; the czarina was graciousness itself; and within eighteen months the young princess had been received into the Greek Church as Catharine, and married to the grand duke, himself only seventeen years old. But already she had learned not to expect happiness. He was, if we believe the accounts of him, senseless and boorish in the extreme. Certainly he did not pretend to the least affection for Catharine. A few days after her arrival, he had coufided to her, "as his cousin," that he was "ardently in love with one of the maids of honor; since, however, the empress desired it, he had resigned himself, and was willing to marry her instead!" She was forced, according to her assertion, to listen to confidences of a like nature during many years. His puerilities and eccentricities, we are told, amounted almost to madness. He was fond of drilling dogs and tin soldiers, together with his disgusted suite. But, like every one else about the court, he lived in terror of the strong-willed, strong-drinking czarina. His kennel must be kept a secret, and was accordingly located in his wife's bedroom. He would spend hours indoors, cracking whips or emitting weird sounds on musical instruments. At

night, after Madame Tchoglokof, who was charged with the surveillance of the grand ducal ménage, had retired, under the impression that she had locked every one up safely, he would call for lights again, like a schoolboy, and make Catharine and her attendants play with marionettes on the counterpane till one, two, three o'clock in the morning. He had been more or less drunk, to credit his enemies, since the age of ten; and Catharine declares he had a mortal aversion to the bath, which it seems was then a Russian, not a German observance. When ordered by the empress to take one as penance during Lent, he replied that it was repugnant to his moral nature and unsuited to his physical constitution, nothing, he said, but the most vital considerations could induce him to risk the empress's displeasure, but he was not prepared to die; and life was dearer to him than her Majesty's approbation. Both were obstinate, and the dispute led to the most terrific outburst of rage on the part of the czarina that Catharine had yet witnessed. On another occasion his wife discovered him presiding over a court-marshal in full regi. mentals, with a large rat in the centre of the room, which had just been suspended with all the formalities of a military execution. It appeared that the unfortunate beast had transgressed the laws of war; it had climbed the ramparts of a cardboard fortress, and had actually eaten two pith sentries on duty at the bastions. It was to be exposed to the public view as an example during three days following! Catharine, unluckily, was so lost to the fitness of things as to betray open merriment. The grand duke was furious; and she had to retire, excusing herself with difficulty on account of her ignorance of military discipline. The affair sensibly aggravated the estrangement between them.

Of Elizabeth, who led an eccentric life with her own peculiar intimates, Catharine knew little; but she was the victim of an unrelenting if petty tyranny, which kept jealous watch over every word and movement, deprived


her of any attendant of whom she made a friend, and dictated every minute circumstance of her life. It was like nothing so much as a dame-school, even to the various tutors and governesses ordered her by the czarina. When her father died, she was allowed a week's mourning; at the end of that time the empress sent a command to leave off, "she was a grand-duchess, and her father was not a king." But Catharine was not of the stuff from which are modelled the monuments of docility. Little by little, as her character develops, she acquires a proud and lonely self-dependence. She awakens to intellectual interests; from the first, indeed, she had flung herself with ardor into the study of Russian history and language. During these early years books are her great distraction; "dix-huit années d'ennui et de solitude," we read in an epitaph written by herself, "lui firent lire bien des livres." After a trial in the wilderness of third-rate contemporary fiction, Voltaire stirs her intellect. And he leads her, too, spell-bound by that incomparable verve and intellectual agility of his; she surrenders herself to the illusion of his brilliant assurance, dancing like some triumphant will-o'the-wisp over the obscure deeps and perplexities of things. In a hundred ways, evil and good, she will remain the pupil of Voltaire. He has his part in her social test of philosophical speculations; he has his part also, be sure of it, in her long devotion to ideals of monarchy expressed for her in Henri Quatre and Louis Quatorze. After Voltaire and Mme. de Sévigné, Montesquieu, Baronius, Tacitus, Bayle, Brantôme, and the early volumes of the "Encyclopædia." But her gay, expansive nature was not capable for long of purely intellectual or stoic consolation. In a moral environment such as that of Elizabeth's court it was too easy for the reader of Brantôme to seek elsewhere the "love" romances had spoken of but marriage had denied her. She was remarked by all in her day for her gift of fascination. To outward observers she seemed at this time a radiant and happy presence, as Burke saw Marie-Antoinette, the

morning star of a pleasure-loving society, "full of life, and splendor, and joy." She says that she never considered herself extremely beautiful, but "she was able to please, et cela était mon fort." All contemporary testimony bears out this singular taculty of attracting others, rarest of natural gifts, but to a woman such as Catharine a very perilous one. Not even those set to spy upon her could resist her personal magnetism. She could be beautiful o terrible, playful or majestic at pleasure. At St. Petersburg there were few wits, and her intellectual superiority to those about her was sufficient to gain her the nickname among her husband's friends of Madame la Ressource. Despite Peter's difficult relations with her, he would refer to her in most of his perplexities, especially when political, connected with his duchy of Holstein. "I don't understand things very well myself," he would explain to strangers, "but my wife understands everything." We observe in the autobiography a fixed idea to "gain over" as many people as possible, to attach them to her interests; partly because of the opposition to the czarina's circle, which gradually came to characterize the "Jeune Cour," but specially in the service of those vague, ambitious foreshadowings which from her first years in Russia had possessed her mind. Clear-sighted, with a keen sense of her husband's inadequacy to his position, warned by the implacable hostility of his mistress Elizabeth Vorontsof and her relations, above all with a passionate thirst to realize her presentiment of greatness, she was instinctively preparing for some emergency, she knew not exactly what. As for the more precise premonitions of the "Memoirs," they are what would naturally appear to her after the fait accompli. Ambition, calculation looking before and after, patience in adversity, quickness to note and use the weaknesses of those about her, a steady indifference to unessentials, a political intelligence unhampered by the keener sensibilities-these are the mas ter traits of the Catharine of the autobiography.

So far, then, of these earlier years, while we have the "Memoirs" with us. We must now pass quickly over many things.


"JE REGNERAI SEULE ICI!" The motto of the Romanofs might be taken from "Macbeth:" "The near in blood; the nearer bloody." But in that sombre history there is no darker page than the conspiracy of 1762. In January Elizabeth died, and the grand duke ascended the throne quietly enough as Peter III. But the position of Catharine was worse than before. The czar was completely under the influence of her enemies; he insulted her in public; and it seemed certain that his next step would be to divorce her, throw her into prison, and marry Elizabeth Vorontsof. He had once already ordered her arrest, which his uncle had afterwards persuaded him to retract. The very reforms with which he had begun his reign worked against him. He had made himself unpopular not only with the clergy, but with the Préobrajenski Guards, which, like the prætorians of the Roman Empire, disposed of the throne. He smoked and drank till three or five o'clock in the morning, writes the French ambassador; yet he would be up again at seven manoeuvring his troops. He would order a hundred cannon to be fired together that he might have a foretaste of war, and his eccentricities in general were intensified by absolute power. The history of the coup d'état is still obscure. A considerable party, however, formed round Catharine: the brothers Gregory and Alexis Orlof won


several regiments, and the Princess Dashkof gained adherents in society. Matters were precipitated by the accidental arrest of one of the conspirators; and although their plans were incoherent, the good fortune of Catharine carried her through. At five o'clock in the morning of the 9th of July Alexis Orlof entered her room at Peterhof, and told her to set out for St. Petersburg, where she was to be proclaimed immediately. She hastened there with the

Orlofs. Three regiments, to whom vodka had judiciously been disposed beforehand, took the oath of allegiance with enthusiasm; and others followed suit. Peter was thunderstruck. On the advice of Marshal Münnich he embarked for Cronstadt, where he was challenged, and demanded admittance as emperor. Il n'y a plus d'empereur! replied the commandant, Talitsine. He hurried back again, and after agonies of indecision, finally abdicated. "He had lost his crown," as Frederick said scornfully, "like a naughty child sent to bed with a whipping."

So far the revolution had been bloodless, but its darker hour was to come. "I placed the deposed emperor under the command of A. Orlof, with four chosen officers and a detachment of quiet and sober men, and sent him to a distance of twenty-seven versts from St. Petersburg to a place called Ropscha, very retired, but very pleasant"-so runs Catharine's account to Poniatowski. On the 15th he was dead; of "hemorrhoidal colic," said the official announcement, strangled, as Europe rightly believed, by Alexis Orlof with his own hands. It is hardly possible that this hideous murder was without Catharine's at least tacit consent. She certainly condoned the crime. There was danger in a name; and her sentiment was doubtless that of Lord Essex when the fate of Strafford hung in the balance, Stone dead hath no fellow! Already, where the Neva turns towards the Baltic, one wretched boy-czar languished beneath the melancholy fortress of the Schlüsselburg. Two years, and he, too, after having known the bitterness of life, will be violently done to death in his turn. wrote to Madame du Deffand, "I am aware that people reproach her with some bagatelles apropos of that husband of hers; however, one really cannot intermeddle in these family squabbles!"

But Voltaire

Such was the tragedy of Peter III. He died, as Catharine said, unpitied: a fool, echo her friends, who perished in his folly. But history is precise and simple; truth complex and difficult.


Was there no light, no touch of nobility at all in that strange chaotic temperament? No reverence in the boy who would kneel to the picture of the great Frederick? No generosity in the czar who sacrificed victory to a sentiment; who abolished the hateful "secret chancery," torture, monopolies, and refused a statue of gold offered by St. Petersburg, "desiring rather to raise a monument in the hearts of his people"? There was something inarticulate there, surely-in the would-be musician who must shut himself up for hours to scrawk madly, passionately, on a crazy violin, and whose last request was for his confidant and instrument. "What is history," said Napoleon, "but a fiction agreed upon?" Such, nevertheless, is the form and spirit of the hapless Peter as portrayed by his enemies.

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

This was the Catharine of Elizabeth's court, and protagonist of that revolution which first made her known to Europe. But it was the sovereign who dazzled her contemporaries, and still lives splendidly with the great czar in the annals of Russia. That exuberant personality of hers is so eloquent, so omnipresent in the sphere of politics, that one is often the most luminous illustration of the other. There is a note you will find common to her grandiose schemes of territorial expansion, of intellectual enlightenment and domestic reform. It is the note of theatricality, of extravagance, of excess. The strangest chimeric fantasy sometimes here possesses her, hitherto prosaic enough in so many ways; and it communicates itself to men like the Orlofs, Patiomkin, Suvarof. It is, I think, M. Leroy-Beaulieu, who remarks that in Russia the shows of things are more important than reality. So rite, ceremonial, the spectacular, the symbolic, seem to have a power there greater than in any other people of civilization. But stronger still was Catharine's overmastering desire to play to the applause of Europe. She had conceived herself as the heroine of a grandiose drama. It

was her ambition to be Grand Monarque of the North, and to show the Paris of Louis Quinze that the age of Olympian sovereignty was not yet past. Hence her sensitiveness to Western opinion, her assiduous court to the men of intellect, her anxiety to be admired and feared in Europe. Nowhere is this pose, this consciousness of a gallery, more evident than in the sphere of foreign policy. The great Peter had fulfilled the dream of Ivan in reaching the Baltic, and so in her wars with the Turk Catharine realized the aim of Peter by forcing her way to the Black Sea. But a Hellenic Empire at Constantinople haunts her dreams. She stirs up Greek against Ottoman, and her trumpeter Voltaire heralds a new Sparta and Athens; she calls her grandson Constantine, and surrounds him with Greek nurse and servants. Her famous progress southward, the most eccentric pageant in history, is typical of Patiomkin's régime. This extraordinary man-mountebank, writes the English envoy, esprit rêveur," says the keener-eyed Prince de Ligne-a barbarian, of terrific appearance; fan. tastic beyond the verge of madness, acquired a greater influence with Catharine than any other man of her reign. He had been created Prince of Taurida (the Crimea) after the conquest of the southern provinces; and was resolved to dazzle Europe and his sovereign with her new acquisitions. In January, 1787, she set out on her triumphal journey. A huge retinue accompanied her, together with the foreign ambassadors, Cobenzl, Fitzherbert, and Ségur, the last of whom has described this strange procession. Forty miles were covered every day. There is a palace at every stopping place; towns and villages dot what six months ago had been a howling wilderness. Painted forests seem to clothe the horizon; fertile solitudes swarm with gaily dressed peasantsimported for this occasion only. From

1 He was a giant, and had an eye gouged out by Alexis Orlof, the consequence of a slight misunderstanding at billiards. Thereafter, with a humor all his own, Alexis named him "the Cyclops."

« VorigeDoorgaan »