Part Three

Fate did not send him [Alexander II] a Richelieu or a Bismarck; but the point is that he was incapable of using a Richelieu or a Bismarck; he possessed pretensions and the fear of a weak man to seem weak....respect for the authority of the autocratic state collapsed: no type of system, no type of general plan...complete discord.

                                                           S. Soloviev

The definitions and boundary lines between good and evil have disappeared.... disintegration is everywhere, for everything has come apart, and no bonds remain.

                                                               F. Dostoevsky

They did not know whom and how to judge, they could not agree on what was evil and what was good.  They did not know whom to accuse and whom to justify.  People killed each other out of some sort of senseless evil anger.

                                                             F. Dostoevsky

I felt that if I wished to live and understand the meaning of life, I must seek it amongst....the simple, unlearned, and poor men.

                                                           L. Tolstoy

Another remedy presents itself....Why not try it?

                                                           L. Tolstoy



 
 
 

24

THE  TSAR VISITS LONDON

On a sunny but cool Wednesday in the middle of May 1874, Emperor Alexander II of Russia was in the English Channel on his yacht Derzhava; he was headed for Dover. Accompanying him was an entourage of more than a dozen aides and officials including his oldest son, the Tsarevich Alexander, by now himself the father of two boys. The Tsar's wife, Maria, was not with him. She seldom was any more, and the emotional ties which once bound husband and wife had long since come undone.

As far as the Tsar was concerned his true wife was Catherine Dolgorukova, whom he still loved passionately eight years after first consummating his love with her that July night at Peterhof. After their rendezvous in Paris and return to Russia, their lives became more and more intertwined. Although he tried to remain discreet, his love for Katia was not easily hidden. He provided her with an apartment in the capital and arranged for nearby quarters for her when he was at Tsarskoe Selo, Peterhof, Livadia in the Crimea, or Bad Ems in Germany. In 1870, she had become a lady-in-waiting to the Empress and therefore had an excuse often to be around the royal family. Her duties, however, did not obligate her to travel with Maria when she went off, as she often did, to take the cure in Europe. On such occasions Alexander could arrange their rendezvous a little more easily. In recent years Katia occasionally had even surreptitiously made her way into the Tsar's quarters at the Winter Palace. There, in May of 1872, she gave birth to their first child, George. A year and a half later a girl, Olga, followed.

A week before boarding his yacht for the Flushing-Dover crossing, he had written to Katia from Stuttgart, that she was his "idol," his "treasure," his "life." He also wrote: "Oh, my Angel, I cannot bear it any longer, I do so yearn for you and would so like to be warmed by you, my adored little wife, and I feel more than ever that my whole life is in you--May God continue to watch over us four." It was not at all unusual for Alexander to write to her, as he also did from Stuttgart, that "all my life is left in you, and yours in me. We want each other and nothing else." Although he fulfilled to the best of his abilities his duties as Tsar, his heart was no longer in his work. It belonged to this young woman still in her mid-twenties, with whom he loved to "clench" together "like hungry cats."1

While attractive, Katia was not a great beauty, nor was she a woman of great refinement or culture. And she could be possessive, jealous, and shallow. But like most men in love, Alexander either did not notice or did not care about most of her imperfections. She was his island of rest and pleasure in a life otherwise full of duties and cares. And he was sure, as perhaps fitted a ruler who crowned himself, that God was with him and Katia and blessed their relationship. Once this visit to England was completed, she was to meet him in Bad Ems, where he would take the waters for a month.

As the white cliffs of Dover came clearly into view for the Tsar, and the early evening sun shone on the water, his daughter, Maria, waited on shore to greet him. Recently married to Queen Victoria's second son, who had joined the Tsar's party in Flushing, she was now the Duchess of Edinburgh. After some initial reservations on the part of both Victoria and Maria's parents, the couple had been allowed to marry in St. Petersburg that previous January. Although Queen Victoria awaited the Tsar at Windsor Castle, her oldest son, the portly Prince of Wales, was on hand to officially welcome him to English soil. Although Alexander had not been to England for thirty-five years, his son the Tsarevich, whose wife was the sister of the Princess of Wales, had visited London just the previous year.

When his daughter came into view the Tsar, dressed in military uniform and maintaining his royal bearing, threw kisses to her. By the time the yacht docked tears were in his eyes--she had always been his favorite. After words of welcome, embraces, and a booming salute from the guns of the castle on the hill, the Russian guests and English hosts boarded a train. As the crowd watched and the band played, the train headed out, bound for Windsor.

At Windsor Castle, Queen Victoria waited impatiently. The Tsar had been scheduled to appear much earlier that day, but his yacht had been delayed. She had last seen him when she had first turned twenty and he was twenty-one. (For pictures of Queen Victoria at various ages see this link.) She was then already the Queen and he but a Tsarevich. But they were both unmarried. She had written in her diary: "I really love this amiable and dear young man," and a little later "he is so frank, so really young and merry, has such a nice open countenance with a sweet smile, and such a manly, fine figure and appearance."2 Only the Queen knew in what sense she "loved" this young man. And despite the fact that he was already smitten by his future wife, Maria of Hesse-Darmstadt, whom he had met shortly before coming to England, he also seems to have enjoyed the company of the young Queen. But regardless of how deep (or shallow) their feelings towards each other were, reasons of state would have prevented them from ever coming closer.

Now, thirty-five years later, Victoria waited in the Waterloo Gallery of Windsor Castle until finally at 10:15 p.m. word arrived that the train had pulled into Windsor Station. All was ready for the Tsar: a guards' unit and flowers on the Grand Staircase, a band, finely dressed ladies and gentlemen of the court; and at the Grand Entrance, the queen herself. His carriage came up the hill escorted by a guard of honor. Several minutes later he got out and reached down to embrace the Queen and then gave her his arm. She noticed that night how much he had changed since she had last seen him. She thought him "terribly altered," with a face that looked "old, sad, and careworn."3 She also thought him thin, but that was perhaps because when he was young he had been on the stout side. Victoria, on the other hand, was considerably heavier than when they had last met. And she was now a very matronly looking woman with fat jowls. Less than an hour after arriving, the Tsar sat down to dinner in the Oak Room between the Queen and his daughter. A band played in the quadrangle, beginning with "God Save the Tsar" and ending with "God Save the Queen." Finally, at about midnight, an exhausted Tsar parted from the Queen and retired to his rooms.

The next evening there was a state banquet in the long oak-paneled St. George's Hall. The Tsar, towering over the Queen, escorted her into the hall. He was in a Red Guards' uniform and she wore a coronet of diamonds to match the diamonds on her dress. He sat between Victoria and his daughter, who was wearing the brilliant sapphire stones he had given her. This set of earrings, necklace, bracelet, and broaches had once belonged to Catherine the Great. Although Victoria had at first opposed her second son's marriage to Maria, she had since grown fond of this pleasant young woman who spoke English well and possessed, according to her new mother-in-law, beautiful eyes, a nice nose, a pretty bust, but too short a chin and too long a neck. As they ate and the band of the Coldstream Guards played selections from Glinka, Schubert, Meyerbeer, and others, Alexander talked with Victoria of his previous visit. Speaking in French, he recalled how he had loved England, but then how his feelings had changed as a result of the events which brought about the Crimean War. He suggested that the Queen had been poorly served by former Prime Minister Palmerston, but he saw no reason why their two countries could not now be on the best of terms. But both he and Victoria knew very well that potential sources of conflict still existed between their two countries. In 1870, with the Franco-Prussian war sill in progress, the Russians had declared that they would no longer be bound by the hated Black Sea clauses of the Treaty of Paris. Victoria found this behavior outrageous. Like many of her realm she was fearful of any strengthening of Russia at the expense of the Turkish government. British power in the eastern Mediterranean might thereby be adversely affected. This was especially important now that the Suez Canal had been completed.

There was also the question of Central Asia. During the past decade British diplomats had watched, often with alarm, as Tashkent, Kokand, Samarkand, Krasnovodsk, and other cities had fallen to Russia and as the Russians moved closer to British India. (See the entrance to the Palace of the Khan of Kokand.) Like the American white men taking over the Native American Indians' territory as they moved toward the Pacific Ocean, so the Russians continued taking over the smaller khanates of Central Asia and seemed destined to continue their forward movement until they also met a more formidable barrier, whether geographical or human.

Some Russians such as Ignatiev, still ambassador to Constantinople, or the War Minister, General Dmitry Milyutin, believed that Russia owed Great Britain no apologies for her advancement. Milyutin noted that the British did not consult the Russians when they wished to expand their empire. Others like Foreign Minister Gorchakov were more concerned with the opinion of other governments. He often advised caution in the Tsar's councils, but when further advances occurred he did his best to justify them. A decade earlier he sent out a circular dispatch to Russian representatives abroad; it urged them to justify Russian advances by pointing to the necessity of advancing against barbarous peoples in order to safeguard Russia's frontiers. It also indicated that the United States government in America and the British in India, as well as other colonial powers, had faced similar problems in attempting to maintain and advance the cause of civilization. When Russia's forward thrusts seemed to go beyond what Gorchakov had led the British to expect, he misleadingly downplayed the Tsar's responsibility and blamed it on insubordinate generals. Finance Minister Reutern's concerns about the costs of continuing expansion and military spending generally--still about one-third of the government's total expenditures--seemed no more capable than British verbal opposition of halting the Russian advance.

Yet, just the previous year, Alexander had sent to London Peter Shuvalov, the head of the Third Division (secret police) and a long time friend. His mission was not just to help arrange the wedding of the Tsar's daughter, but also to assure the British government that the Tsar did not intend to conquer Khiva. After it fell a little later that year, Shuvalov also blamed it on the generals. With a base now in the Turkoman steppes, some British diplomats feared Russia was in a better position than ever before to threaten the independence of Persia and Afghanistan and pose a heightened danger to British India.

Perhaps having in mind Constantinople or Central Asia, Alexander at the banquet that night asked Victoria if he could write to her directly if difficulties arose. She agreed. Then Alexander changed the subject, and with tears in his eyes he thanked Victoria for all of her kindnesses to his daughter and expressed the hope that Maria would always prove herself worthy of favor. Victoria herself was touched and reached out to take Maria's hand.

One of the guests that evening was Prime Minister Disraeli, who had just recently come to power and who had been critical of his predecessor Gladstone for not being concerned enough with Great Britain's international and imperial role. He found the Tsar to be dignified but "soft in his manners," unlike the Tsarevich whose manner seemed more that of a soldier.4 The following day the sixty-nine-year-old Prime Minister had an audience with the Tsar at Buckingham Palace, which had been made available for Alexander for the remainder of his stay. The Tsar expressed his friendly feelings toward England, but nothing of substance was discussed. Disraeli thought that the Russian Emperor was gracious, but that his face, with its muttonchop whiskers, was a sad one, probably habitually so. What Alexander thought that afternoon of the old Prime Minister who was also a novelist, a Jewish Christian, and a wily politician much appreciated by Queen Victoria, we do not know.

Alexander remained at Buckingham Palace for six days. Victoria stayed at Windsor Castle while her oldest sons and their wives escorted the Tsar around London, by now an enormous city of four million people. He visited the Houses of Parliament and Westminister Abbey; he went in procession, surrounded by cheering crowds, flags and bunting, and ringing bells, to Guildhall, where he was officially greeted by the city officials. In the evenings, he attended banquets, balls, and concerts. He also went to the Crystal Palace, the reconstruction on new grounds of the iron and glass structure that had been the centerpiece of the first great international exhibition in London in 1851. There, 30,000 people were on hand, and he enjoyed a concert and fireworks.

To many, including the critical Dostoevsky, the Crystal Palace symbolized the spirit of England in the midst of its prosperity. But a quarter century of almost unimpeded growth and unchallenged economic dominance was coming to an end for the island kingdom. The years 1873 and 1874 witnessed the beginning of a recessionary period for Western economies. In addition, in the years ahead Great Britain would face increasing competition from the newly united Germany, which was just now in the process of surpassing Queen Victoria's country as Russia's chief trading partner.

Alexander's own economy would not be as seriously affected by the recession as that of Victoria's, and his modernization process would be able to continue despite various obstacles. In the last five years alone he had overseen the doubling of his country's railway tracks. Nevertheless, serious economic problems continued to plague his administration. Despite increasing exports, especially of grain, they continually lagged behind imports. The government also constantly spent more than it received, and its foreign debt over the past decade was in the neighborhood of one billion rubles. And despite this indebtedness, Russia remained far behind the more industrialized Western countries.

One morning the Tsar took a brief train ride out to Chislehurst to visit the former Empress of France, Eugenie, widowed since the previous year. She and Napoleon III had settled on an estate here after he had been ousted from power in the wake of defeats at the hands of Prussia.

On the two days before he left London, the Tsar attended the inevitable military reviews that monarchs and rulers were so fond of putting on for one another. The first was on the dusty fields of Aldershot, which lay to the southwest of London. There in a dark green and gold uniform with a plume of feathers on his helmet and sitting atop a gray charger, the Tsar reviewed thousands of the queen's best Dragoons, Hussars, Fusileers, and Scottish Highlanders. The next afternoon, on the first really bright sunny day since he had arrived in London, he reviewed six horse batteries and ten of field artillery on the fields near the royal Arsenal at Woolwich.

In the past year the Tsar had been very concerned with his own military. He had finally taken the advice of his reform-minded Minister of War, Dmitry Milyutin, and introduced a new conscription law. Among other provisions, it made all classes, and not just the poorer ones, liable for military service. And it shortened the terms for active duty. Milyutin was a cultured, intellectual man, noted for his industriousness and his reserved and unpretentious demeanor. Although he had been at his post since 1861 and had been responsible for gradually improving the education, training, and treatment of Russian soldiers, the appointment of Peter Shuvalov as head of the Third Division in 1866 had prevented Milyutin from being more influential than he was. Instead, for almost eight years the influence of this chief of the gendarmes seemed to increase steadily until he was the second most powerful man in Russia. He usually sided with the interests of the large landowning class, who resisted any reforms which they thought would weaken their power and privileges. He was Milyutin's chief antagonist and opposed the War Minister's new conscription proposals. Milyutin blamed the suave Shuvalov for overemphasizing the personal and political dangers facing Alexander and for being the man most responsible for stemming the Tsar's earlier sympathy for reform.

But finally Shuvalov let his success go to his head. He became increasingly arrogant and also became critical of the Tsar's beloved Katia. After Alexander approved the military reform legislation at the very beginning of the year, he became more attentive to Milyutin and seemed to listen less to Shuvalov. Not long after leaving London, the Tsar would announce that Shuvalov was to take up a new post, and he was replaced as the head of the Third Division. The new position for this friend of the Tsar's youth who had accompanied him to England and who was at the review with him that day was to be that of ambassador to Great Britain.

On the day after the review at Woolwich, the Tsar, his daughter Maria, and the Tsarevich attended an Orthodox Church service on Welbeck Street. Then accompanied by Maria's husband and the Prince and Princess of Wales, they took a train to Gravesend. There, amidst the pomp of a military escort and the firing of guns, he said goodby to his daughter and hosts and steamed away on his yacht.
 
 

25

DOSTOEVSKY IN BAD EMS

About a month after the Tsar's departure from London, Fedor Dostoevsky arrived in Bad Ems (see 1872 painting of him). His Tsar had left this famous health resort less than a week before, seen off at the train station by his uncle Kaiser William, the Emperor of Germany. A reporter stated that the Tsar seemed to have benefited from the waters. But it is more likely that he looked healthier just being with Katia in this lovely valley town.

It was a beautiful sunny day close to noon when Dostoevsky's train pulled in from Berlin. At first, as he wrote to his wife Anna, he found Ems to be a beautiful place. The narrow, gentle Lahn River flowed through the town, which squeezed itself in between high hills which overlooked it on both sides.

Ems was then one of the most famous spas in all of Europe. As in Baden-Baden, the cream of European society could be seen walking its promenades or sitting in its gardens. Kaiser William went there regularly, as did the Russian Tsar. In 1870, the two monarchs, along with Bismarck and Gorchakov, met there. Shortly after the Tsar returned to Russia that year a famous meeting occurred at Ems between Kaiser William and the French ambassador to Prussia. It was utilized by Bismarck to provoke France into a war which would help to complete the unification of Germany. Alexander at that time gave diplomatic support to his uncle by pressuring Austria not to become involved against Prussia.

Several days after he had arrived, Dostoevsky came across Emperor William, now, thanks to Chancellor Bismarck, the head of a united and strong Germany. Dostoevsky thought that the tall old monarch was an imposing looking figure. He wrote to Anna that when the Emperor passed by, everyone stood up, took off their hats, and bowed or curtsied. The Emperor on the other hand didn't bow to anyone, but sometimes waved his hand. Dostoevsky, always the nationalist, contrasted the German Emperor's behavior to what he had heard of that of his own ruler, who in Ems had graciously bowed to others in return.

Dostoevsky was undoubtedly among the minority in Ems who admired the Russian monarch more than his German uncle. Even many Russians abroad tended to be critical of their Tsar. William I and Bismarck, on the other hand, despite conflicts with German Catholics and economic problems characteristic of the European recession, remained popular with most educated Germans, who were still flush with the excitement of German victories and nationhood. The support of liberals and university students and professors for the German government especially contrasted with the situation in Russia, where little such support was forthcoming.

For some five weeks Dostoevsky wrote to Anna about life in Ems, about his literary work, the weather, his health and the progress of his cure, and about how he loved and missed her and their two children.

Thanks in part to Anna's thriftiness and good business sense and to his having finally given up his gambling mania, the Dostoevskys were now better off financially than they had been in the first year of their marriage. But the income of a writer was still unsteady, and they both watched their expenditures closely. Dostoevsky thought that Ems was terribly expensive. Over the course of several weeks, he bargained hard with two different landladies, and he managed to pay only twelve thalers a week for his modest rooms at each lodging. He preferred the second place, the Hotel Ville d'Alger, run by a French woman from Algiers. Here his two rooms were larger and better furnished than at the first pension where he stayed, and he had a balcony. This small hotel was at the eastern edge of town and faced the Lahn river, which was a stone's throw away.

Like almost everyone taking the cure, Dostoevsky arose at 6:00 a.m. in order to go to one of the springs in the center of town and line up for his glasses of mineral water. By 6:30 some two thousand people would be lined up with their glasses. When their turn came they would hand them to young girls who would give them the prescribed amount from the springs. Just as at the gambling tables in Baden-Baden, Dostoevsky often got angry when jostled or nudged in the crowd. As the patients drank their water, which smelled just a little like rotten eggs, a band played in the garden. Much to the Orthodox Dostoevsky's chagrin, it often opened with a Lutheran hymn.

After having his morning coffee, he often tried to work in his rooms. After leaving Geneva six years earlier, he had finished The Idiot, and in Dresden written another novel, The Eternal Husband, and worked on still another, The Devils. The last work evolved to a large extent out of Dostoevsky's fascination with Nechaev's murder of Ivanov on the grounds of Moscow's Agricultural Academy, an event he had read about in the newspapers. His interest in the case might also have been heightened by the fact that Anna's brother Ivan was a student at the Agricultural Academy and had visited his sister and Dostoevsky in Dresden shortly before the murder. He told the couple something of the political atmosphere at the Academy.

Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, influenced by Western secular ideas, had reasoned that murder was permissible, and then with Nechaev, reality seemed to copy art. Nechaev became the prototype for one of the main characters of The Devils, Peter Verkhovensky. Although Nechaev was not brought to trial in Russia until January 1873, five months after his arrest by Swiss police, some of his co-conspirators were tried earlier in the summer of 1871. The government publicized the trial, and the Dostoevskys happened to return to Russia, after four years abroad, just as the lengthy trial was in its beginning stages. Dostoevsky followed it closely and was especially horrified by "The Catechism of a Revolutionary." In his novel he hoped to demonstrate the harmfulness of Western atheistic and socialist ideas. But he also wished to display in a more accurate fashion than he thought Turgenev had done the true relationship between the liberal "fathers" and their radical "sons." He wished to show that the "fathers" bore a heavy responsibility for helping to infect their "sons" with false Western ideas, for leading them away from true Russian ideas, including Russian Orthodoxy, and for acquiescing in their radicalism. One minor fictional character of the older generation was especially mocked and attacked in the novel, and that was Karmazinov. Dostoevsky clearly meant him to be a reflection of Turgenev. But as with Verkhovensky's likeness to Nechaev, Karmazinov was more of a caricature of Turgenev than a fair, objective portrait.

Now in Ems after his morning coffee, he was planning still another novel, one that he thought would mirror the true condition of a turbulent modern society, as opposed to one of those idyllic works of landowner literature sometimes written by his more acclaimed rivals for fame, Turgenev and especially Tolstoy. At first he contemplated entitling it "Disorder," but would eventually call it A Raw Youth. Surprisingly, he had promised to deliver it to Nekrasov. For the last six to seven years, following the government's indefinite suspension of The Contemporary, Nekrasov had edited the leftist Notes of the Fatherland. A few months before Dostoevsky had left for Ems, the enigmatic Nekrasov had come to him with a generous offer. When the conservative Katkov and his The Russian Messenger could not match it, Dostoevsky decided to accept Nekrasov's overture. But he was a little concerned about editorial tampering on the part of the radical staff of the Notes of the Fatherland.

He had already jotted down various ideas in his notebook. Among them: "Children. A mother who has married a second time. A group of orphans....The foundations of society have cracked as a result of the revolutionary reforms....The definitions and boundary lines of good and evil have disappeared." Now in Ems, he continued writing down pertinent material. "Most Important. The idea of disintegration is everywhere, for everything has come apart, and no bonds remain."1

He also made many other notes including ones on abandoned children, about children murdering and robbing their father, and about a predatory type character who seduces his stepdaughter and plans to murder his wife. During his weeks in Ems two central characters gradually evolved in his mind. One was the predatory individual already mentioned and the other a youth, who for a while Dostoevsky envisioned as the younger brother of the predatory man. Eventually they would become father and illegitimate son. Dostoevsky thought of the first as an atheist, a shameless man, but already in his Ems notes a complex figure bearing some resemblance to the now deceased Alexander Herzen. The second, like some of the characters in the author's earlier works, dreams of making money, of becoming a Rothschild. When the older man treats this dream with disdain, the youth asks him to point out a better ideal. But his request is left unanswered. Once again, as in The Devils, Dostoevsky was pointing to the responsibility of the older generation for the behavior of the misguided youth.

In Ems, homesick for his wife and two young children and for Staraya Russa and the summer house they rented near a river lined with elm trees, Dostoevsky was afraid that many of Russia's educated minority were leading his country away from all that he loved. He planned to have one of his characters say: "The idea of children, the idea of the fatherland, the idea of integrity, of a future ideal--all these ideas no longer exit; they have been smashed, undermined, and ridiculed."2 Like Tolstoy, he placed the highest emphasis on marriage and family life and disagreed fundamentally with the radicals who advocated free love. He believed that relationships like the ones Nekrasov and Herzen had had with their friends' wives were unnatural. Did he know or suspect that the Tsar himself had two families and had often slept with Catherine Dolgorukova at the villa she rented in Ems?

During 1873 and early 1874, Dostoevsky had edited the conservative journal The Citizen, owned by a friend of the Tsarevich. He also had become increasingly friendly with the Tsarevich's chief tutor and adviser, Constantine Pobedonostsev, a tall, thin, dour man who also contributed to the journal. It is possible that in his talks with such individuals who were close to the Tsarevich, Dostoevsky might have heard of some of the details of the Tsar's private life.  By 1874 the Tsar's relationship to Katia was common knowledge at court and was probably among the reasons that some, such as Pobedonostsev, placed increasing hopes on the Tsarevich, who was faithful to his wife and in general behaved more as conservatives believed a good and upright Tsar should.

To someone such as Dostoevsky the number of children given up to foundling homes, often by mothers of illegitimate children, would also be alarming. Dostoevsky tended to attribute the break-up of family life, as well as most other evils, to Western influence. In the westernized St. Petersburg, for every three births in the city one child was left, usually by city residents, at the city's Foundling Home. And a majority of these infants would die during their first year, either at the Home or in the nearby peasants' households to which they were sent.3

In addition to radical Western ideas which challenged marriage, the family, religion, and monarchical rule, Dostoevsky was also opposed to the materialism and capitalist spirit he had witnessed in Western Europe and which he feared were becoming increasingly prevalent in Russia. Not only does his "raw youth" wish to become a Rothschild--the anti-Semitic Dostoevsky would also increasingly blame Jewish acquisitive influences for polluting the true Russian spirit--but in the author's Ems notes he has one of his characters bemoan the deforestation of Russia and the exhaustion of her soil by those interested only in immediate profit. Although a strong supporter of modernization efforts needed for Russian military strength, Dostoevsky never outlined how they could be carried out without encouraging the capitalistic spirit which distressed him.

When it was not raining, and it often was that summer in Ems, Dostoevsky would go out for a walk before he ate dinner at 1:00 p.m. He complained in his letters to Anna that besides a crowded garden and park there was nowhere else to go. Climbing the nearby hills would be too exhausting for an asthmatic like himself. He also complained of the Germans and of most of the Russians who came to Ems. He had never felt especially comfortable among the wealthy classes. And here in fashionable Ems, where some of the ladies walked about as if dressed for a ball, he worried about the adequacy of his white waistcoat and the calamanco suit he had had made in Ems. As the weeks succeeded each other, he spent a little time with a few Russian acquaintances, but mostly he stayed to himself and concluded that Ems was a vile place. Even worse, he wrote to Anna, than his Siberian prison experience!

When he failed to receive letters from Anna as frequently and regularly as he would have liked, he scolded her, but more frequently he expressed his love and his ardent longing for her. After she had mentioned some dreams in a letter to him, he wrote: "I strongly kiss you, and as for the account of your indecent dreams, my little dove, if you could only know what I see. For a woman, however, it is not so proper. Never mind, never mind. Hush! On the contrary, I am very happy. I kiss you passionately all over."4 He also frequently mentioned his children: Lyubov, who was not quite five, and little Fedor, or Fedya, who celebrated his third birthday during his father's absence that July. When one of Anna's letters was delayed, he often worried that perhaps something had happened to one of his precious little ones.

He put up with this and other anxieties and dissatisfactions caused by his stay in Ems only because he hoped to improve his health. So in addition to planning his novel and reading Pushkin or various newspapers at the Kurhaus, he occasionally went to the magnificent quarters of his doctor, a man named Orth. And he wrote to Anna about the progress of his "cure." He reported on which springs he drank from and whether or not he mixed his mineral water with milk. He also informed Anna that Dr. Orth told him to eat meat with fat and more acidic things. During one of his subsequent visits to Ems--he would come again in 1875, 1876, and 1879--Dr. Orth would forbid most fruits and greens. But Dostoevsky continued to smoke heavily, and Dr. Orth apparently never saw any significant connection between his patient's coughing and wheezing and his smoking habit. But then most other doctors of his day probably would not have either. After his first three weeks in Ems, Dr. Orth listened to his chest and told him it was completely healed in three places, but not yet in two others.

On the first of August Dostoevsky wrote to Anna that despite a cold and some hoarseness in his chest, he felt incomparably better than he had before arriving in Ems. And if it had not been for a couple of epileptic seizures, he was sure that the cure would have done him even more good. Not too many days after writing this letter, he left Ems and returned to Russia. But only after he had first gone to Geneva to visit the grave of his first daughter, Sonia.
 
 

26

SOPHIA PEROVSKAYA, RADICAL

In the same month that Dostoevsky arrived in Bad Ems, Sophia Perovskaya was released from five months in prison. What crime had merited such treatment for this little twenty-year old whose father had once been governor of St. Petersburg and who was now still a member of the Council of Ministers of the Ministry of the Interior?

Not long after her father had lost his job as governor in 1866, she had gone with her mother and sister to Kilburn, the family estate in the Crimea. There they lived for over two years. In the summers, and once in the spring after a two-month university suspension for taking part in student disorders, her brother Vasily came down from St. Petersburg armed with radical literature. The young Sophia longed to know more. And at the end of the sixties she got her chance. In the summer her father came to the Crimea with the news that it was necessary to sell Kilburn to help pay for his debts. The family returned to the capital, where he found a place for them, while he continued to live in his own apartment. Sophia enrolled in the newly begun classes for women being offered at the Alarchinsky gymnasium, which was located near her new lodgings on the western side of the city.

Soon she was spending hours in rooms with other women discussing the position of women in society and other social questions. (See this link for a photo of Sophia--at the bottom of the picture--with several other women.)  Amidst heavy cigarette smoke, Sophia looked almost like a child. She seemed oblivious to her appearance. The look of her gray-blue eyes and the way she held her mouth indicated that she was a most serious woman. She often sat in the corner. She seldom talked for long in these sessions, but when she did speak she was not hesitant to present her views forcefully and sharply. She argued, for example, that the women should keep their discussion circles limited to women. If they merged with those of young men, the better educated men would make it difficult for them to come up with their own independent ideas.

Within a couple of years, however, young Sophia changed her mind. Along with several other women, including her good friend Alexandra Kornilova, she joined a circle headed by a young Jewish medical student named Mark Natanson. For several years he had opposed Nechaev's violent, hurried, elitist approach to change. Instead he emphasized a more gradual method which stressed the enlightenment of the self and of the masses. At the end of 1871, however, Natanson was arrested, and the circle eventually was referred to as the Chaikovsky Circle, after one of its other members. By the fall of 1873, it would have about thirty members in the capital and slightly more spread out in other areas of the country.

Despite its name, the men and women who made up the circle in the capital were opposed to having a single leader. Reacting in part against Nechaev's elitism and criminal behavior, they thought of themselves as a group of friends working honestly and forthrightly together for their own improvement and for the good of the people. One of their later members, Prince Kropotkin, said he never again met "such a collection of morally superior men and women."1

At first the circle's main task, in addition to their own enlightenment and improvement, was the distribution of important books to various parts of Russia. Among these were works of Chernyshevsky, Lavrov's Historical Letters, a translation of Marx's Das Kapital, and Bervi-Flerovsky's The Situation of the Working Class in Russia and his Alphabet of Social Sciences. The circle also distributed pamphlets that were printed by circle members who had gone to Switzerland. These pamphlets were designed especially for propagandizing among the peasants.

Like other members of her group, Sophia was heavily influenced herself by these works, especially by those of the Russian writers. Chernyshevsky's feminist heroine Vera in What Is to Be Done? was an early model for radical young women, and his superhuman Rakhmetov became a model for both sexes. Lavrov was a middle-aged former artillery officer and mathematics instructor who had been arrested and exiled following Karakozov's attempted assassination of Alexander II. He had recently escaped and turned up in Paris. Along with Bakunin he would be the leading émigré influence on young Russians in the early seventies. In his Historical Letters young radicals read that the comforts and privileges which they enjoyed, including education, were made available to them as a result of the exploitation of the masses. Therefore, they had a heavy debt to repay to the people. The educated minority who realized their obligation had to help bring about social and economic justice. However, unlike Bakunin, who hoped for an immediate revolution, Lavrov thought that one could only come about after a great deal of preparation and education. Sophia reflected his influence when she thought, as she did in the early seventies, that it might take a couple of generations before a revolution could occur.

Bervi-Flerovsky's The Situation of the Working Class in Russia (1869) was based partly on his own experiences in exile in Siberia and other places within Russia. He wrote of both peasants and industrial laborers. He began his book with a quote from a peasant woman: "O, wretched is our life, little our land, great are our taxes, and we do not know what to do."2 He rejected the argument that the poor's poverty was due to laziness and vice. On the contrary, he attributed it to the high redemption payments that peasants had been making for their land since the emancipation and to high taxes; and in the case of industrial workers, it resulted from low wages and their exploitation by the upper classes and the state. The Russian workers, Bervi-Flerovsky thought, were even worse off than those in capitalistic countries. And he was no doubt correct. While the conditions of both Russian peasants and urban workers had apparently deteriorated during the previous decade, the ten years prior to the economic downturn of 1873 had witnessed real economic gains for workers in the more industrialized western countries of Europe. Nevertheless, Bervi-Flerovsky did not want to see capitalism develop in Russia. Like Herzen and Chernyshevsky, he hoped that Russia could achieve socialism before capitalism became fully developed.  (See this link for a photo of a Russian errand-boy and knife-grinder, c. 1913.)

Sophia and her young friends shared both this hope and his vagueness about the role of industrialization in any future socialist society. In addition, they were not especially interested in achieving a constitution for Russia. If one could be achieved, and that was doubtful, they thought it might end up benefiting only the upper classes while increasing the exploitation of Russia's vast poor and illiterate masses.

No, their concerns and obligations were for the welfare of "the people"--thus the confusing term "populists," which some radicals would soon adopt and which historians would later use to tag most radicals of the 1870s. In keeping with this spirit, in the spring of 1872, Sophia decided to go out and directly help them. She went to the Samara Province, located just east of the Volga river. There she assisted a school teacher, but then, after a few months, learned to give smallpox shots and went to administer them in the villages. That same summer Leo Tolstoy lived further south in the steppes of the same province on thousands of acres he had recently purchased.

In the villages Sophia slept in the small huts of the peasants, just as they did, on a bench or on the floor. Three-generational families, although beginning to break up, were still common then. And it was not at all unusual for ten to fifteen people to be living together in a single room. (For an excellent realistic depiction of Russian peasant life in the late nineteenth century, see Chekhov's short story "The Peasants" or see this link for a more detailed historical investigation of two peasant villages in this period.)  Despite the appallingly high death rate of the Russian peasants--syphilis seemed to be the most recent scourge--she often had a difficult time convincing her superstitious villagers of the necessity for smallpox inoculations. (See Perov's painting "Village Burial.") As she talked to them she learned first hand how they felt about their lives. They complained of high taxes, too little land, and too many dishonest officials. But they did not blame the Tsar. And they continued to hope that he or one of his successors would someday deliver them from their crushing burdens--they paid taxes and redemption payments to the state at a rate of about ten times as much per acre of land owned as did the nobles. In the meantime, the peasants seemed to believe that there was little they could do about their fate, and nothing this earnest little teenage girl said seemed to have much effect.  Despite Sophia's efforts, their religion or vodka probably continued to offer them more solace than any revolutionary hopes. (See the two paintings by Repin and Savitsky depicting religious events among the people.)

The winter after she arrived in the Samara Province, there was a famine there, but by then she was gone. She had left to go to a village in the Tver Province, the same province in which Bakunin had grown up. She had a friend there who taught in a village school, and Sophia assisted her. Not many Russian peasants or their children were yet literate, but thanks to the zemstvos and the peasants' desire for literacy for their children the number of schools was increasing. In the evenings Sophia and her friend, Alexandra Obodovskaya, taught some of the children's fathers to read. (See Kramskoi's 1882 painting "Study of a Peasant.")

After the formal lessons the two young ladies read to the peasant men from the writings of Nekrasov and Gogol, from stories about Ivan the Terrible and the old town councils of Novgorod, and about the folk rebels that Bakunin admired, the seventeenth-century Stenka Razin and the eighteenth-century Emelyan Pugachev.

Sophia was happy and content that winter and spring. She felt useful and healthy. She lived simply in a log hut in the snow-covered village. But then her friends in the capital wrote to her of their educational and propagandistic work among St. Petersburg workers, and she decided to go back to the capital.

She soon settled into quarters in the Vyborg District, north of the Neva River. From here she worked along with others at propagandizing among workers and helping to send out books and pamphlets to various parts of Russia. When the gendarmes began to watch too closely the little house where she stayed, she left it and settled into a house on the southeastern side of the city beyond the Alexander Nevsky Monastery. There in a gloomy unattractive house, divided into two parts by a dark narrow corridor, she lived with several other members of her circle.

On one side of the corridor lived the thin, gray-eyed Sergei Sinegub and his wife Larisa. Following the example of one of Chernyshevsky's heroes, he had married the young Larisa purely to assist her to obtain a life of her own free from parental interference. He understood that in keeping with the revolutionary ethics of the day, he obtained no rights over her as a result of the marriage. However, when he needed the presence of a wife to obtain a village teaching job, she had volunteered to accompany him. And while in the countryside love had bloomed, and the merely legal marriage had turned into a real one. Now back in the capital, Sergei, a wealthy nobleman by background, was one of the organizers of the circle's educational and propagandistic work among St. Petersburg's workers.

On the other side of the corridor, which contained two rooms and a kitchen, Sophia lived along with Dmitry Rogachev. According to her false internal passport, she was the wife of a worker. And although Rogachev was a former artillery officer, he looked the part of a worker and in fact had taken a job in the Putilov factory at the smelting furnaces. He was a strong, powerful man, who later on worked a stint as a Volga barge hauler. Unlike the Sinegubs, Sophia and Dmitry never became romantically interested in each other. At this time in her life, Sophia seemed not the least bit interested in romantic love or sex. She was very critical of "ladies men" and wanted only to devote herself to the cause of the people.

Sophia cooked and washed clothes for the group. Dressed in a cotton dress and men's boots, and with a kerchief on her head, she could also be seen supporting a yoke on her small shoulders as she brought two buckets of water back from nearby Neva. When her friends tracked in mud from the streets, she would scold them with a severe look on her girlish little face. But despite her rebukes and her serious nature, she was a general favorite among her circle.

In the evenings she now taught geography and geometry to some of the weavers and textile workers that the circle had attracted. After the lessons she talked with them about the evils of the government, the needs of the people, and about socialism.

Although industrial workers still comprised only a little over five percent of the city's population, they were growing rapidly in this the most industrialized city of Russia. Government sponsored railway construction had been one of the reasons for the growth. It had led to a considerable expansion of the metal-working industry and to the development of such metal-working plants as the large Putilov one where Dmitry Rogachev worked. Sophia and her friends, however, preferred working with some of the textile workers, who were more poorly paid than the metal workers and who were more peasant-like in their mentality. In fact, in the summers many of them, some infected with syphilis contracted in the city, still returned to work and to see their wives and families in their native villages. They did not need Sophia and her friends to tell them about their miserable urban conditions that often included thirteen or fourteen hour work days for subsistence wages that enabled them to live together ten or more crowded into a room or two. If their employers mistreated them, failed for example to pay them on time, they had little legal recourse. Unions and strikes were forbidden. Then there were the noisy and unhealthy factories where not only men, but large numbers of women and children, put in their long days. Yet these textile workers knew they were better off than many others in the capital, those without regular work, those in lower-paying industries, or some of those living in factory-owned dormitories. And, of course, life in the countryside had been no better, or many of them would not have come to the capital in the first place.

No, in regard to their lot in life and that of the workers and peasants in general, Sophia and her friends could not teach them much. But they could teach them how to read and write. Through history and geography they could give them some sense of their place in the world. Some of Sophia's friends told them about the activities of workers in Western Europe. Peter Kropotkin, a prince and former page to the Tsar, who often visited a friend in the Tsar's Winter Palace, would change into peasant work clothes and tell the workers about the labor movement aboard. He had been especially impressed by some of Bakunin's worker friends in Switzerland. Some of the St. Petersburg textile workers now became convinced that their fates were not inevitable, that they could work towards changing their conditions. Kropotkin incidentally also hoped to move some of his fellow propagandists more towards the less patient revolutionary methods of Bakunin.

The activities of the Chaikovsky Circle, however, were not going unnoticed. One night when Sophia was out, the gendarmes came, searched the house, and arrested Sergei Sinegub. Several months later when she was at Alexandra Kornilova's, the gendarmes once gain burst in. They found a letter in code, some revolutionary books and songs, and a French dictionary with Sinegub's name on it. The two young women, along with one of Alexandra's sisters, Lyubov, were arrested. This was in the beginning of January 1874.

Sophia was taken that night to a three-story building behind the Summer Garden. It had bars on the windows. Two helmeted gendarmes with sabers drawn, met her gendarme escorts and herself as their carriage came to a halt in a courtyard. She was led into the three-storied building. In her boots and old dress, this little young woman must have looked rather helpless that night, standing there surrounded by the bigger and uniformed gendarmes. She was taken up a staircase to the third floor, where a sentry unlocked iron bars and led them into a corridor. On one side was a blank wall, on the other a series of doors. Sophia was led through one of them into a fairly large room. A gendarme sentry then locked the door; she was now incarcerated in the Third Division's own special little prison.

Her room contained an iron bed, a blanket, and a little table and stool. The walls were ocher. The top part of the door was made of glass, covered on the outside by a green blind which the sentry would lift from time to time. She realized that although she was cut off from her friends, she would have little privacy. At first, between the morning's tea and roll and a dinner probably brought from a neighboring tavern, there was nothing to do. Nor was there any activity for her from dinner until more tea and a roll in the evening. But soon a friendly gendarme, who for some time had been secretly aiding the prisoners, saw to it that Sophia received a roll with a little writing paper and graphite in it. She was able to sneak messages out and, shortly afterwards, to receive, openly this time, books and clean clothes.

Once she was called before a gendarme colonel who sat behind a green table and asked her questions. The questions, however, seemed to indicate that he really did not have much incriminating evidence against her. She was returned to her room, and the months dragged slowly on.

One night she heard commotion in the corridor and found out later that Kropotkin and other friends had been arrested. After a short time in the Third Division's prison, he and some of the others were transferred to the Peter and Paul Fortress. A similar fate had earlier befallen Sinegub.

It was a year in which there would be many more arrests. In the spring and summer of 1874, over a thousand individuals, mostly young, "went to the people." From St. Petersburg and Moscow, from Kiev, Kharkov, Odessa, and other university cities, they went to work (for example, giving smallpox inoculations and teaching literacy) and to propagandize among the people. Some had been part of the Chaikovsky Circle or one of its branches, most had not. Some following the ideas of Bakunin, hoped to start a fire that would soon lead to the type of massive conflagration that Razin and Pugachev had led in earlier centuries. Others, more influenced by Lavrov, stressed a more gradual education of the people. Almost all believed that they owed a debt to the peasants, and many thought they could also learn from the peasants. Some students left their universities shortly before they would have received their degrees. The movement was a manifestation of the dominant quest of the seventies: the desire on the part of Russian intellectuals to overcome their alienation and to achieve a sense of community and oneness with the people.

Yet the youths' propaganda had little effect. The movement was not well coordinated, and the peasants were naturally wary of the young outsiders and of becoming involved with them. Other rural elements such as the local gentry often reported these outsiders to the police. Before the year was out, over 700 of them were arrested, and more than 200 hundred of them would be held in prison for several years awaiting trial.

Meanwhile, that June, Sofia was led into a big room and found to her surprise that her father was there. The two of them had seldom seen each other in the last five years. There had been a brief period a year after Sofia had first returned to the capital when the family had all lived together in a crowded apartment on Little Meshchanskoi Street. Her father, however, was sickly and irritable at the time, and he objected to her radical, short-haired female friends. He told his daughter to tell them that he did not wish them to come around anymore. Shortly after this, she replied that she would live separately from the family. Her father raved at such a reply from his seventeen-year-old daughter. But that evening she left home. Her father asked her brother Vasily if he expected him, her father, to allow Sophia to destroy herself. Vasily replied that if he attempted to force his will on her, she might kill herself. Days passed and she did not return. Her father informed the authorities. Her mother went to Alexandra Kornilova and pleaded with her to tell her where Sophia was. But Alexandra would not. Without an internal passport, Sophia could be arrested as a vagrant and put in prison. Before too long, she left by train for Kiev. Finally, on his doctor's advice her father, whose health had grown worse, decided to allow Sophia to live separately. She returned to the capital, but did not go to see her father. For years he could not bear to hear her name mentioned.

Now, however, upon seeing his daughter in prison, Lev Perovsky bent down and kissed her. They both wept. He told her that Shuvalov, who had served in the same regiment as he, had promised to release her on bail. Not long after this meeting, Sophia was released, and Shuvalov took up his new post as ambassador to London. Not for three years would Sophia be brought to trial along with many others arrested in 1874 but, unlike her, kept for the entire three years in pre-trial detention. For a short time in 1874, Sophia lived with her father and Vasily. Her brother had by now himself become involved in her circle, which had been depleted by arrests and departures. Their father no longer pried or interfered in their lives. But that summer as arrests continued around them, Sophia and her brother decided to go and stay temporarily with their mother, who was living in the Crimea. After obtaining permission from the authorities, they left by train: from St. Petersburg to Moscow, and then, on recently opened lines, from Moscow via Kiev to Odessa. From there they went by steamboat on the Black Sea to Sevastopol, where they transferred to the other side of the bay and climbed a hill in a rented cart. Before too long they reached a little isolated house and a happy reunion with their mother. After a winter and spring locked up inside prison, Sophia was now free to enjoy herself in this picturesque retreat. She went riding in the hills, picked grapes, read books, and went down to the seashore to swim.
 
 

 27

A MYSTIC IN THE DESERT

At the end of 1875, a young Russian the same age as Sophia Perovskaya found himself alone in the Egyptian desert. He was wearing a top hat and a long black coat. He was taller than average, pale and thin. But his dark blue eyes were what people noticed. Beneath his thick, dark brows, they seemed both penetrating and mysterious. The young man was Vladimir Soloviev, the son of the historian.

Although as a young teenager he had rejected the religious beliefs of his parents and become an atheist and a nihilist, he by now had given up such views. He still sought the transformation of society, but now by the workings of both God and man. Only gradually had he worked out this religiously oriented philosophy. At sixteen, he entered Moscow University, where his sober hard-working father continued to serve as dean of the Historical-Philological faculty and then, after 1871, as rector of the university. But the learning that was most important to the young Vladimir was not that dictated by his professors, but by his own inner search for truth. (For a photo of Soloviev as a young student see this link.)
 

From his preference for reading Darwin, the nihilist Pisarev, and the German materialist Büchner, he passed on to the philosophers Spinoza, Feuerbach, Mill, Kant, and especially, Comte and Schopenhauer. The latter helped lead him to other German philosophers such as Hegel and Schelling. He also became interested in Eastern religions and in mystical writings. After graduating from the university in 1873, Vladimir went to the Moscow Theological Academy at the Trinity Monastery of St. Sergius. The monastery was one of Russia's most cherished holy places. Vladimir, however, did not intend to become a monk, as some rumors stated. He merely wished to attend lectures and study religion and philosophy. While there that year, he wrote an article on primitive religious beliefs and worked on a thesis, The Crisis of Western Philosophy, which would earn him a Master's degree at St. Petersburg University in 1874.

In his thesis he surveyed the development of Western philosophy and found all of its manifestations incomplete. Scholasticism, rationalism, materialism, and positivism all contained some truth, but also serious limitations. Finally, he thought that in his own day Schopenhauer and Eduard von Hartman had begun to move Western philosophy back in the direction of the truths long proclaimed by Eastern faiths. Also influenced by some of the works of the Russian Slavophile thinkers, the young Soloviev suggested that the world was now ready for a new synthesis. It would be one of science, religion, and philosophy, and one which would incorporate the truths and discard the falsehoods that all three had manifested in the past.

His thesis was not just a manifestation of abstract thinking, but also reflected his deepest feelings. As he indicated to his cousin Katia, he thought himself called to help bring the desired synthesis about. And it in turn would help bring about the Kingdom of God on earth, "the kingdom of internal spiritual relations, of pure love and happiness."1

Although he certainly had a head for abstract philosophical thinking and seemed often to have it in the clouds, he was not a dry, pedantic person, but an ardent young man strongly attracted to feminine beauty. The jealous pangs over a young girl and the vision of a beautiful lady that he had experienced when he was nine had been an early indication of his complex personality.

In the summer after his eighteenth birthday, he went south to visit his grandmother Romanova in the Kherson province. Her husband, the old Sevastopol hero, had been dead for seven years, but staying with her was a niece and a granddaughter, both of whom Vladimir found attractive. His feelings for the granddaughter, his cousin Katia, proved to be the most long lasting.

Her parents had separated years earlier, and for a while in the sixties she had lived with Vladimir's family in Moscow. But that summer as they read poetry together on his grandmother's estate, they became more intimate, and when he returned to Moscow they wrote to each other. Katia was sixteen that summer, and was a lovely dark-eyed, dark-haired girl who resembled her aunt, Vladimir's mother.

The following May he again went south to see her, but a strange event occurred on the train from Moscow to Kharkhov, where she was now staying with an aunt. Years after this event of 1872, he wrote a story about it. What parts actually happened and which ones were later figments of his imagination no one can say for sure. Nevertheless, the story relates how as the train moved southward towards Tula, he noticed a slender ash-blonde woman who, while not beautiful, seemed to him very appealing. To the thin, pale, nineteen-year-old Vladimir it seemed that after a while she began glancing at him with a friendly and encouraging smile. But he was too awe-struck to approach her. At the Tula station, however, some sort of troupe of loud French men and women entered their car and settled in near the slender blonde. She soon became upset by their disruptive and drunken behavior and came and sat next to Vladimir. Before long she was speaking frankly and openly of herself. She was married, with several children, but often fell in love with other men. As he was then still under the influence of Schopenhauer, he replied that love was an illusion, but one to be preferred over marriage, which entangled one too much in a corrupt world.

On tracks completed only three years earlier, the train rolled southward. It became dark outside. The exhausted French troupe fell asleep, and it became quiet in their second-class car. She took off her hat and let down her hair. A woman's hair falling on her shoulders had always had an irresistible appeal for him. And her thick luxurious hair now seemed the most beautiful he had ever seen. It induced in him an almost trance-like condition. Time seemed obliterated.

He began kissing her hair and then covered her arms with kisses. "How strange you are! Who allows you to do this?"2 she asked. He whispered some naive apology. But then felt on his lips a long, hot kiss. Other kisses and embraces followed.

The next morning he felt guilty for violating his philosophic principles and for betraying his cousin, whom he was on the way to see. His companion no longer seemed so appealing, and he was a bit abrupt when he spoke with her.

In Kursk, they changed trains. She went to a first-class compartment and he went to a second-class seat, where he struck up a conversation with a radical medical student from Kiev University. The student took him for a fellow radical, perhaps because of Vladimir's long hair and unkempt appearance.

After they had talked a while, the slender blonde appeared in his car and invited him into her first-class compartment. She told him she was alone in it and bored; they could ride together all the way to Kharkhov. Although reluctant, he agreed. As they stepped out of the car to cross over to another one, he fainted. He discovered later that she had grabbed him and prevented him from falling between the cars. When he regained consciousness lying on the platform of his car, all he saw was clear sunlight, a strip of blue sky, and a beautiful woman with wonderful familiar eyes and a rosy light about her face. She was bending over him and whispering something soft and tender. It was his blonde friend but somehow transformed. And he felt himself also transformed. All his thoughts, feelings, and inclinations had dissolved into this sweet, light, calm, almost mystical, vision before him. In it he felt all the beauty and wonder, all the fullness and meaning of the universe.

Later, after he had returned with her to her compartment and kissed the edge of her dress and her legs, he told her that she had awakened in him a love in which he had completely forgotten himself, that only now did he really understand the workings of the divine in man and what goodness and true happiness were. He no longer felt guilty, but only filled with a pure love.

After he promised to visit her and her husband in Moscow, he departed at the train station at Kharkhov. As the train began to pull off into the night, she reached her hands out the train window to him and he felt warm tears in his eyes. Upon meeting his cousin Katia, he was disappointed. She appeared less tender and heavenly than he had remembered her.

At least that was the way he told it all twenty years later. In the two years which followed this memorable trip, his feelings for cousin Katia fluctuated. At one point, the two of them considered marriage. She was by then in St. Petersburg a good part of the time, and he became very jealous of the attentions directed towards her by one of his uncles and by his older brother Vsevolod. But at about the time that he was preparing to live at the Moscow Theological Academy, she apparently became upset with his reclusive ways, and their relationship soon cooled.

After receiving his Master's degree in the fall of 1874, the young Soloviev was befriended by some conservative Slavophiles and criticized by some Western-oriented thinkers who were upset with his thesis. One of his new Slavophile acquaintances was Ivan Aksakov, the brother of the deceased Constantine, who had once polemicized with his father. At the beginning of 1875, Vladimir was appointed a lecturer of philosophy at Moscow University, where his father was still rector and still completing each year a volume of Russian history. At the same time, Vladimir gave lectures at the Moscow Higher Courses for Women, which his father had helped to begin--women were not yet permitted to enroll in Russia's universities. In spring, however, Vladimir took leave to study Gnostic, medieval, and Hindu philosophy. By the end of June, he was in London.

At this point in his life he was still trying to integrate his abstract rational philosophizing with his deeper mystical inclinations. Before leaving for London he had become very interested in certain mystical writings, and at the British Museum he continued to seek out such works. He became especially interested in the Jewish Kabbala and in the works of the mystical German writer of the early seventeenth century, Jacob Boehme. Boehme emphasized the universal role of the Divine Wisdom, "Sophia" in the Greek. Divine Wisdom or the Wisdom of God had also been written of in the Bible and in Kabbalistic texts and depicted in Russian icons. Churches, the various St. Sophias, had also been dedicated to it in Soloviev's native land. (See, for example, St. Sophia in Novgorod, where Soloviev greatly admired an icon of Sophia the All-Wisdom of God.)

This concept of Sophia now became for the young Soloviev his lodestar and a key to integrating his philosophy and his mysticism. He came to think of Sophia as the universal oneness, the oneness of God with creation. He began to see history as a process of man and nature falling away from God and splintering into separateness and then eventually reuniting in a higher synthesis. Sophia symbolized that potential synthesis. And for Soloviev that all-oneness with God became the goal of history.

At the same time, however, Sophia had a more personal meaning. Like others before him, he perceived Sophia in feminine form and now identified her with the beautiful lady who had appeared to him in church when he was nine. In the reading room of the British Museum, also then a favorite haunt of Karl Marx's, he read all that he could in the mystic literature which related to her. Then one day when he longed to personally experience her, as he thought he had in childhood, he once again sensed her presence. As he later wrote:

All was filled with a golden azure,

And before me she once again shone.

Only her face--it alone.3

When he complained of seeing only her face, a voice within him told him to go to Egypt. By the end of October he had left London. By way of Paris, Lyon, Turin, Parma, Ancona, and Brindisi, where he boarded a steamboat, he finally one morning reached the port of Alexandria. That same evening he arrived by train in Cairo.

It had been a good trip ever since he had avoided seasickness crossing the English Channel. The train ride through the Alps and Italy was pleasant, as was the Mediterranean voyage. The weather was clear and warm, the sea blue, and the nights moonlit.

Upon arriving he checked into the Hotel Abbat on the Station Road, not far from the railway station. It was a comfortable hotel which catered to European tourists, of whom the number had increased significantly in recent years. The Suez Canal had opened just six years earlier in 1869, and British and French influence had been increasing in Egypt, which in theory was still part of the Ottoman Empire. Compared to most Middle Eastern cities, Cairo was large, but its population was still only half that of St. Petersburg and one-tenth that of London.

In his hotel, the young Soloviev met a retired Russian general who was advising the Egyptian khedive, Ismail, on the reorganization of his army. The general and Ambassador Ignatiev in Constantinople hoped that it might eventually be utilized against the Turkish sovereign, to whom Ismail still had to pay tribute. The general was the well-known Russian nationalist Rostislav Fadeev. A veteran of the wars in the Caucasus and the Crimean War, he also had written the official history of the Caucasian wars. But he had been forced to resign from active service because of his opposition to the proposed reforms of Minister of War Milyutin. At the very end of the sixties, Fadeev's The Eastern Question had appeared. In it he argued in behalf of Russian policies which would lead to the creation of a pan-Slavic federation. Such a grouping would unite all Slavs, as well as the Greeks, Rumanians, and the city of Constantinople, under the leadership of the Russian Tsar. Fadeev was not foolish enough to think such a dream could come about without a war or wars with Germany, Austria, and the Ottoman Empire. He believed, however, that with the help of other Slavs, Russia could prove triumphant. No wonder he wished to help improve Egyptian forces and to strengthen the khedive's ties with Russia. Egypt might prove helpful before too long against Turkish forces. Soloviev often ate meals with Fadeev at the hotel and found this fifty-one year old general to be quite loquacious, full of opinions and risqué anecdotes.

During his first week in Cairo, Soloviev took in some of the sights of the city. He went up to the twelfth-century Citadel, which sat on a high rocky plateau at the eastern edge of town. It offered a wonderful view of Cairo. The colorful domes and minarets of the city's mosques, often red and white, were interspersed with acacias and palms, stone buildings, and narrow streets. From the Citadel he could also see the Nile valley stretching north and south, a green strip of fertility between brown desert sands. He also examined some of the city's mosques, visited the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities--which he thought marvelous--and went out to bathe in the Nile and see the Great Pyramid of Cheops at Giza. Nearby, he viewed the great Sphinx, with its body of a lion and head of a human. It was about an hour and a half carriage ride from his hotel, much of it via a new road into the desert and up to the rocky platform on which this and several other pyramids stood. In addition to climbing up the pyramid of Cheops, he also visited the burial chambers within it. Unlike many other tourists he did not complain, at least in his letters to his mother, of the local Egyptians who pressed their services upon foreigners and demanded a tip (baksheesh).

Soloviev remained in Egypt until March and seemed to enjoy his stay. Before the new year had begun, he had moved out of his hotel to live in quarters with the family of a photographer. By early February, a good friend, Prince Dmitry Tsertelev, had come to join him and moved into the same building with him. On the warm spring evenings they would sit on the roof and look out at the city and the sky above.

Sometimes, the tall, thin Soloviev would travel on the back of a donkey through the city's colorful sights. He especially liked to ride on a big white one who was guided through the narrow streets by a man named Tolbi. In these streets were turbaned men and veiled women, some dressed magnificently in a variety of colors, but also poorer people, often barefooted and wearing only simple gowns. Young children of both sexes sometimes wore nothing at all. In crowded bazaars one could buy almost anything from yellow slippers to green vegetables, from gold bracelets to camels, and one could see jugglers and barbers plying their trades.

In addition to its colorful, exotic aspect, Cairo also had a more modern side. French and English influence had increased in recent years. Khedive Ismail had been educated in France, and on a trip to Paris at about the same time that Tsar Alexander had visited there, he had been impressed by Baron Haussmann's wide new boulevards. He came back to Cairo and began imitating Haussmann. By the time Soloviev arrived in the city, the Esbekiya quarter had become the modern showpiece of the city. Here a military band played in a public garden. Cafes and clubs, a white opera house and French theater, European-style hotels and houses, gas lighting and broad streets, all set this quarter off from the rest of Cairo. In the Esbekiya one saw fewer turbans and more European attire. One might even see some American officers, for the khedive had purchased American weapons and employed some U. S. Civil War veterans, including several generals, in his effort to strengthen his army.

One day while Soloviev was in the Esbekiya and, in spite of the heat, dressed in a long black coat and tall black hat, he met Ferdinand de Lesseps, the builder of the Suez Canal. De Lesseps was already seventy, but still an energetic, lively Frenchman with a talent for making friends. He brought Soloviev back with him to his quarters, and there Soloviev met the French writer M. de Vogue. In the course of their conversation, Soloviev told him that once in the same clothes he was then wearing he had gone into the Suez desert looking for a tribe that guarded certain secret Kabbalistic teachings. But he had not found the tribe. Instead he had been discovered by some Bedouins who relieved him of his watch.

Although Soloviev probably told the story with a touch of humor, for he often had a way of dealing with his deepest experiences in a light joking manner, his trip into the desert was one of the most serious events of his life. It had occurred just a few weeks after he had first arrived in Cairo, and within just a few days of a day that in retrospect would prove important to Egyptians and Europeans alike, a day on which occurred, according to Leopold II of Belgium, "the greatest event of modern politics."4 The event was the sale by the deeply indebted Ismail of his 177,000 shares in the Suez Canal to the British government under Disraeli. While not completely indifferent to such international occurrences, Soloviev was much more concerned with his own spiritual quest. Whether or not Soloviev told De Vogue his real reason for going into the desert is not altogether clear. Years later he wrote that the voice of the mystical Sophia had told him to seek her in the desert. At any rate, he set out in his tall hat and long black coat, but without food or money. About thirteen miles from Cairo the group of Bedouins who were to take his watch mistook him in the night for a devil. They tied up his arms and led him off further into the desert. Luckily, however, they soon released him. Exhausted by the walk and ordeal, he decided to lie down and sleep. With the stars shining above, he stretched himself out on the desert sands. Despite the heat of the day, the night was cold and he had trouble sleeping. He thought he heard a jackal howling, and then after a while, a voice saying "sleep, my poor friend."5 When he awoke it was to a mystic vision of Sophia, the Eternal Feminine.

Years later in words influenced by the symbolic language of the mystics and by the description of Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs, he would try to describe that indescribable experience. In the poem "Three Meetings" he would write of his desert vision of Sophia, her eyes full of azure flame, appearing amidst the purple of heavenly splendor and the smell of roses. The image of her filled his being. Only she existed. Past, present, and future were all encompassed in her gaze, as were the blue "seas and rivers," the "distant forest," and the "heights of snowy mountains," all of which Soloviev stated he saw stretched out before him.6

Before leaving Cairo he would write a poem about Sophia, his "queen," as he called her. It helps to fill out his image of her. He wrote of her palace with its golden pillars, her jewel-filled crown, and her garden full of roses and lilies and a silvery stream. But when far below she sees her desolate friend, she comes to him bathed in light and full of quiet tenderness. She covers him with her radiance.7 For Soloviev, Sophia represented not only the mystical oneness of the universe, but also a tender, loving, maternal force.

Thus, a year after thousands of his contemporaries sought, whether consciously or unconsciously, a sense of community and oneness by going to the people, the young Soloviev believed he had twice experienced a oneness much more profound than any earthly manifestations of it.

After his vision of Sophia in the desert, Soloviev followed the sun back towards the west to Cairo and arrived at his hotel in the evening. He told General Fadeev of his trip, but not of the vision. The general, who incidentally was the uncle of the theosophist Madame Blavatsky and thus would have been no stranger to unusual spiritual tales, advised him not to say anything more of his excursion unless he wanted to be thought a fool or a madman. (A handy summation of Soloviev's mature views is available on Mikhail Epstein's site dealing with Russian thinkers. )
 
 

 28

THE TSAR AT THE FRONT

 At the end of June 1877, the Tsar was in Simnitza, Rumania with his soldiers. Russia was again at war with Turkey, for the tenth time in two centuries. The day before his arrival in this little town, Russian troops had crossed the Danube under Turkish fire and successfully secured the opposite Bulgarian bank and surrounding heights. Before the day was over, they had also taken over the small town of Sistova, which lay a few miles south of the great river. After arriving in Simnitza, with an entourage that included the Tsarevich and Minister of War Milyutin, Alexander visited the wounded and established his quarters at a nearby country house which sat up on a hill overlooking a wide stretch of the Danube below. Later that same day he and his retinue rode down to the river and were transported to the southern bank. His soldiers greeted him with "hurrahs" and a regimental band. Then flanked by two solid rows of soldiers, his party rode up into the hills to congratulate the generals and troops now situated near Sistova. As the Tsar strode up on this hot sunny day to shake the hand of one of his victorious generals, an English war correspondent thought that he looked younger than his fifty-nine years and every inch a majestic ruler.

At the entrance of Sistova the Bulgarians welcomed him warmly. He was met by a crowd led by clergymen carrying banners, the gospels, and a cross. Alexander told them to lead him to their church. Along the route, the Bulgarians showered him and his men with flowers. The women and children seemed especially happy, and the old people crossed themselves. When he entered the crowded church some people kissed his hand, others applauded. Many Bulgarians thought of Alexander as the "divine figure from the north"1 who had come to liberate his co-religionists and fellow Slavs from the hated infidel Turk. Already the windows of Turkish houses and shops in the town had been broken, some had been looted, and Turkish inhabitants had fled before the approaching Russians. Near one of the town's mosques the street was strewn with the pages of torn-up Islamic books.

Bulgarian hatred of their Turkish masters was understandable. In the spring and summer of the previous year, the Turks had put down a Bulgarian rebellion with the utmost severity. Thousands of defenseless peasants were massacred and about sixty villages destroyed.

In a proclamation issued at the beginning of Russia's involvement, Alexander himself told the Bulgarians that Russia was called upon by the "decrees of Providence" to assist the Bulgarians, to deliver them from the "arbitrary rule" of the Muslims.2 Nevertheless, almost a full year had passed after the Bulgarians had first risen against the Turks before Alexander had answered the call of Providence. Many of his Russian subjects had hoped he would act sooner.

In fact, the Bulgarians were not even the first Orthodox Slavs to revolt against the Turks. A year before their revolt the Christians of Herzegovina and then Bosnia had begun an uprising against them. The following year, shortly after the Bulgarians had arisen, Serbia and Montenegro declared war on Turkey. In Russia during the summer of 1876 enthusiasm for the heroic battle of the Slavs against the Turks spread like a contagious disease. An unsympathetic Leo Tolstoy described the fever in Anna Karenina, which he was then writing.

Among the people to whom he belonged, nothing was written or talked about at that time except the Serbian war. Everything that the idle crowd usually does to kill time, it now did for the benefit of the Slavs: balls, concerts, dinners, speeches, ladies' dresses, beer, restaurants--all bore witness to our sympathy with the Slavs....The massacre of our co-religionists and brother Slavs evoked sympathy for the sufferers and indignation against their oppressors. And the heroism of the Serbs and Montenegrins, fighting for a great cause, aroused in the whole nation a desire to help their brothers not only with words but by deeds.3 (For an online translation of the chapter from which this passage is taken, see this link.)

Tolstoy made it clear, however, that he did not believe that the average peasant had any desire to fight for his fellow Slavs.


Some Russian radicals, though, did go off to help the Slavs. And a number of leftist journals supported the cause. It was, after all, a revolt against oppression, and some liberals and radicals hoped it would lead to more progressive policies in Russia itself. The leaders of public opinion, however, were primarily more conservative journalists such as Ivan Aksakov, the brother of Professor Soloviev's old critic, and Michael Katkov, the influential editor of The Russian Messenger and The Moscow Gazette. Dostoevsky in his popular The Dairy of a Writer, issued on a monthly basis in 1876 and 1877, also strongly supported the panslavic cause. All three men were also members of the Slavonic Benevolent Committee, which reached the height of its influence in these years.  By 1877 the Moscow Committee and its branches in St. Petersburg, Kiev, and Odessa possessed over a thousand members. For over a decade before his death in 1875, the conservative panslavist M. P. Pogodin had been the president of the organization, and Ivan Aksakov took over the position after his death. General Fadeev, whom the young Vladimir Soloviev had met in Cairo, belonged to the St. Petersburg branch. Copies of his Eastern Question, with its call for Russia to battle her enemies and unite the Slavs, were now distributed widely. Another St. Petersburg member was N. Danilevsky. His Russia and Europe (1869) contained a message very similar to that of Fadeev's, but dressed up in more scientific garb.

The committee played an important role in 1876 in channeling aid to the Slavs. The Tsarina and Tsarevich, both aggrieved by the Tsar's continuing relationship with his beloved Katia and both more conservative nationalists than he, were ardent supports of aid. Important churchmen also helped, as did various volunteers including Russian officers permitted to volunteer in the Serbian army. The general who soon became the head of the Serbian army was the semi-retired Russian M. Chernyaev, whose earlier conquests in Central Asia had earned him the sobriquet "Lion of Tashkent."

From Constantinople, Russian ambassador Nicholas Ignatiev also encouraged Russian aid to the Slavs. The successful negotiator of the Treaty of Peking almost two decades earlier, Ignatiev was an ardent panslav and a member of the Slavonic Benevolent Committee. It had been Ignatiev who had persuaded the khedive in Cairo to accept General Fadeev's offer of help.

Although Ignatiev was fated to witness Egyptian troops enter the fight on the side of the Turks, first against the southern Slavs and a year later against the Russians, his schemes were usually more successful. To many British diplomats this mustached ambassador, with his mocking smile and wily seductive wife, was the devil incarnate.

While Alexander still was discouraging the Serbs from taking up arms against Turkey, Ignatiev encouraged them to believe that Russia would aid them in case of a conflict. Shortly after the Serbs declared war, he suggested to his government that Russia send an army of 200,000 men to aid the Serbs. Later, in the late summer and fall of 1876, after the Serbs had suffered a series of defeats, he joined other Tsarist advisers at Alexander's Livadia estate in the Crimea. Here amidst the semi-tropical vegetation, with the waves of the Black Sea below and the mountains behind them, he again urged the Tsar to fight. Although War Minister Milyutin and Finance Minister Reutern urged caution--the latter was especially fearful that a war would wreck his fifteen-year effort to stabilize Russian finances--the Tsarina and Tsarevich sided with more bellicose advisers such as Ignatiev. Alexander decided on a partial mobilization and on an overall campaign plan. But cautious as always about heeding the voices of extreme Russian nationalists eager for battle, he still hoped to avoid war.

Since late 1875 he had cooperated with other European rulers to solve the problem of the Turkish treatment of its European Christians. The major European governments, except Great Britain, agreed on Balkan land, tax, and religious reforms that Turkey should carry out. British Prime Minister Disraeli, however, encouraged Turkish resistance to these efforts. He distrusted Russian intentions and hoped to sow dissension between the members of the Three Emperors' League--Austria, Germany, and Russia--who since 1873 had agreed to consult together if war threatened in Europe. After Turkish military successes in the middle of 1876, and shortly after the Livadia decisions, Russia unilaterally sent an ultimatum to the Turks. Coming right after a Turkish victory that opened the way to Belgrade, Alexander believed that only this demand for an end to hostilities could save Serbia from another rout and possible Turkish massacres. Turkey agreed to a six week armistice.

In the months that followed, Alexander continued to seek a diplomatic solution that could be imposed upon the Turks. He assured the British ambassador to Russia that British fears of Russian intentions regarding Constantinople and India were ludicrous. But Disraeli remained uncooperative. And Alexander continued to feel pressure from ardent nationalists. He complained of being reproached for his "passive attitude," and foreign observers wondered how long he could resist "the national conscience." After several more months of futile diplomatic efforts, Russia decided to act alone. First, however, Alexander obtained Austria's assurance of neutrality, but only by assenting to a future Austrian occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Finally, in April 1877, by which time Serbia had made peace but Turkish-Montenegrin talks had broken off, Russia declared war on Turkey.

In the Russian cities public opinion was enthusiastic. Police reports indicated approval of the declaration of war by all classes. But it is difficult to say how the average peasant felt because no one paid much attention to peasant opinion, despite the fact that the peasants still made up more than eighty percent of the population. Among the educated public there were some exceptions to the general clamor of approval. As the Russian government and conservatives had become more bellicose, some of the radicals became increasingly disenchanted. And Tolstoy remained bitterly opposed to Russian involvement. But Dostoevsky's enthusiasm was much more characteristic of the spirit of the times. He believed that Russia was fighting for a holy cause and that the struggle would help unite Russia around its true Orthodox roots.

Another enthusiast for the war was the young mystic, Vladimir Soloviev. His father, despite his differences with Pogodin and the Aksakovs, had been a charter member of the Slavonic Benevolent Committee. In 1877, the old historian published a book on Alexander I; and in it he justified the past Tsar's policies toward Turkey and his sympathies with the Orthodox Christians then controlled by the Ottomans. Vladimir thought about volunteering but finally set off for Rumania and Bulgaria as a war correspondent for Katkov's conservative newspaper--about thirty Russian correspondents covered the war. On the road to Bucharest, he ran into his cousin and former loved one, Katia Romanova, who had volunteered as a nurse. It was later recounted by a family friend how during the war the beautiful Katia caught the appreciative eye of the Tsar himself when he visited an aid station where she was working. The young Soloviev, however, for some unknown reason, returned to Russia before ever reaching the front.

Meanwhile, the Tsar spent the last days of June and the first part of July in the hot and dusty little town of Simnitza. He watched his engineers build a narrow pontoon bridge over the Danube and his men and supplies cross it in a steady stream; he visited the sick in the hospital station set up near his lodgings; he read telegrams from his generals who had moved further into Bulgaria or who were engaging the Turks in the Caucuses; he met with his ministers and advisers; and he visited his troops on both sides of the Danube.

The Tsar usually dined with his entourage under a tent cover set up on the lawn of his "borrowed" estate. One day while dining he heard a funeral knell from a nearby church. Realizing that it was the service for an officer killed in the Danube crossing, he got up and went into the decrepit, dark Rumanian Orthodox church, where an old priest officiated. His ministers and generals followed. He remained for the whole service, lasting about an hour, and then had engineers prepare a grave under the peristyle of the church, and watched as the body was lowered into it.

The next day Alexander decided to visit two mutilated Bulgarians in the hospital set up near his quarters. He also invited the British military attaché to come along and "admire the work" of his government's Turkish "protégés."4 By the time of the royal arrival, one of the mutilated, his head having been split open by a Turkish saber, had died. His widow was grieving at his side.

That same day Alexander wrote to his beloved Katia that part of the British Mediterranean fleet had received an order to move closer to the Dardanelles and Constantinople. The British government feared Russian designs on Constantinople and the vital straits, the Bosporus and Dardanelles, leading from the Black Sea into the Mediterranean. (For a picture of the Islamic Great Mosque on the Bosphorus, see this link.)

Two months earlier, Disraeli (now a "swine" according to the Tsar5) had threatened to go to war if Constantinople or the Straits were endangered. Having witnessed continued Russian expansion in Central Asia, in spite of earlier promises, Disraeli and Queen Victoria were wary of Alexander's new assurances regarding Constantinople. And indeed some of the Tsar's advisers recommended the establishment of Constantinople as a "free city." Dostoevsky had gone even further when in the spring of 1877 he had written that "Constantinople must be ours."6  (See this link for a picture of the Sultan's Palace at Constantinople.)

Despite being near the front, Alexander did not intend to command the Russian troops. Instead, he made his younger brother Nicholas the commander-in-chief. He, the Tsar, was to be a spectator, and hopefully an inspiration for his men. He called himself a "brother of mercy"7 (nurses were referred to as "sisters of mercy"), and when he visited the hospitals he told the doctors and nurses to carry on as if he were not there. Once again, as had happened more frequently early in his reign, he and others could see him as the benevolent, loving Tsar looking out for the welfare of his subjects. Although he was eager to cross the Danube and set up quarters closer to his troops who were pushing forward in Bulgaria, he temporarily allowed his brother to dissuade him from doing so.

At first the news was good. A week after his arrival, he wrote to Katia that the initial crossing of the Danube at Simnitza and the securing of Sistova had only cost the Russians a few hundred lives, whereas he had feared losing at least ten thousand. After receiving a favorable telegram from one of his advancing generals, he would frequently read it to his staff and some of his soldiers, who often greeted the news with "hurrahs" and thanksgiving services. With perhaps as much anticipation as for these military dispatches, Alexander awaited letters or telegrams from Katia. His passion and love for her was as strong as ever. At the beginning of the previous year when she was five months pregnant, he wrote to her as follows: "I enjoyed our love-making madly, and am still all steeped in it. You are so tempting, it is impossible to resist! There is no word for this delirium."8 The day before that, she had written to him that she could not be without his "fountain," which she loved so.9 Now at the front, he longed to hear of her and their children.--George (or Gogo as they called him) was five and Olga (or Oly) three and a half; another boy, Boris, born a year earlier, had died soon after birth.

As the year went on, his letters to Katia reflected the changing fortunes of the Russian army and his changing locations in Bulgaria. He frequently mentioned Plevna, a Bulgarian town some forty miles southwest of Simnitza. There the Russians were twice repulsed by Turkish forces. Many young Russian soldiers with their bayonets affixed to their outdated rifles lost their lives in these attacks. And in September, although aided by the Rumanians who were now pressed into a more active role, the Russians were again repulsed and suffered about 16,000 casualties.

Despite some victories to counterbalance the defeats at Plevna, the war was not yet the rout that many Russians had expected. Some of the Russian deficiencies included the use of old-fashioned artillery, as well as rifles, failures in the organization of supplies and medical treatment, and a poor and disunified leadership. The presence of the Tsar in Bulgaria, accompanied by War Minister Milyutin, meant that there were really two command headquarters. Despite his intentions to remain a spectator and leave the command to his brother, it proved impossible. Confusion and recriminations often resulted.

The English war correspondent who had been impressed by the Tsar's appearance in June at Sistova found him in August to be gaunt, haggard, and stooped, with a "hunted expression" in his eyes.10 During this Englishman's interview with the Tsar at Gorny Studen, a village in the hills south of Sistova, he also noticed that the Tsar's asthma was bothering him terribly, as he gasped for air in spasms. (See this link for a picture of the Tsar and his Staff at Gorny Studen.) His doctor, Sergei Botkin, was deeply concerned with his patient's asthma, as well as with the insomnia that often troubled the Tsar. Botkin tried to persuade him to leave his troops and return to Russia. But his sense of duty kept him in the field.

In September he wrote to Katia that it was unbearable to be separated from her and that on one occasion he "cried like a child"11 when reading one of her letters and a dictated letter from their son, Gogo. Later that same evening he had to inform her of the death of her younger sister's husband at the battle of Shipka Pass. Casualties, he reported, had been high on both sides. He told Katia that he prayed God would come to Russia's aid and put an end to the "odious war, for the glory of Russia and the good of the Christians."12

Whether or not God came to Russia's aid, by January of the following year it looked as if Russian troops might soon be in Constantinople. In the preceding month, they had finally taken Plevna. In January several more important victories followed, and before the end of the month Russian troops were in Adrianople. By this time, Alexander was back in St. Petersburg, having returned in December to a tumultuous reception of ringing church bells, booming cannons, and shouting crowds. For a brief time, it seemed almost like the first few years of his reign when he had more freely traveled through Russia encouraging his troops during the Crimean War, coming to Moscow for the coronation, or trying to convince nobles to support the emancipation of the serfs.  Then newspapers had reported on the mutual love of ruler and people, and Alexander had apparently hoped to use such a perception to rule more effectively.  But too much had happened since then to undercut the confidence of both the ruler and ruled in each other.  And matters would just get worse in the few years that remained of Alexander's reign. For now, Pobedonostsev, the chief adviser of the more nationalistic Tsarevich, noted the applause for the Tsar, but faulted him in letters, including some to the Tsarevich, for his military appointments and his lack of a firm will.

The day after the capture of Adrianople, the Tsar's brother Nicholas wrote to Alexander that it was necessary to take Constantinople. But fear of English and Austro-Hungarian intervention restrained the Tsar. He ordered his brother to advance without attempting to take either Constantinople or Gallipoli, which overlooked the crucial Dardanelles. On January 30th, the Turks accepted Russian conditions for peace negotiations, and the following day an armistice was signed. The Russians were to halt at a line which at its nearest point was only some thirty-five miles away from Constantinople.

Alexander sent Ignatiev to Adrianople to negotiate a treaty. Ignatiev and the extreme nationalists in Russia had wanted Russia to continue advancing towards Constantinople. But others like Foreign Minister Gorchakov, always mindful of British and Austrian fears, advised caution. Indeed, Disraeli and Queen Victoria, whom Alexander the previous year had referred to privately as "that old madwoman of a Queen,"13 both were determined to resist what they considered excessive demands on Turkey. Even after the armistice they continued to fear a Russian advance on Constantinople. In the middle of February, British ships entered the Dardanelles and advanced to within a few miles of Constantinople. Russia countered by demanding and obtaining Turkish acquiescence in the occupation of the little village of San Stefano, located on the Sea of Marmara, only about six miles from the walls of the capital.

It was in this picturesque site that the Russians and Turks finally signed a peace treaty in early March. It created a large autonomous Bulgaria with a large Aegean coastline; provided for Russian territorial gains in the Caucasus and a Turkish indemnity to Russia; stipulated some territorial gains for Serbia and especially Montenegro; recognized the full independence of Serbia, Montenegro, and Rumania; and mandated Turkish reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Russian nationalists and panslavists were in general happy with the treaty. Some thought, however, that it was the very minimum that Russia could be expected to accept. But Alexander was worried, and with good reason. He feared that London and Vienna would find the treaty unacceptable. For a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the already strained national budget, Alexander did not wish war against these two European powers. Consequently, within the next few months he succumbed to Austrian and British diplomatic pressure and agreed to some modifications. After months of complex negotiations, the concerned major powers agreed to meet in Berlin in an attempt to finalize a mutually acceptable postwar settlement.

The Congress of Berlin opened in the middle of June 1878 and lasted for a month. Alexander's Foreign Minister, the vain Gorchakov, was the head of Russia's delegation. But almost eighty years old and not in the best of health, he had neither the energy nor the desire to undertake much of the arduous but inevitable give and take. Instead, Alexander's ambassador to England, his old friend Shuvalov, undertook the task of maintaining whatever war gains were possible in the potentially hostile atmosphere of the conference.

Shuvalov was probably the most able man for the job. Having just turned fifty the previous year, he was a dignified, aristocratic, and conservative gentleman, whose balding white hair and mustache made him look much older. Nevertheless, he had a reputation as a lover of wine and women, and he mixed easily in fashionable London circles. Despite Disraeli's distrust of Russia and his determination to best the Russian negotiators at the conference, the old Prime Minister had private praise for the aristocratic Shuvalov's considerable abilities. Bismarck, with whom Shuvalov was on excellent terms and who kept the Congress sessions on track, also thought that he performed admirably. (See this link for a photo of Bismarck and Disraeli at the Congress of Berlin.)

The Treaty of Berlin was nevertheless a grave disappointment to many Russian nationalists. The large and grateful Bulgaria that Russia hoped to create was greatly reduced in size; Austria-Hungary obtained the right to occupy Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Britain to administer the island of Cyprus. In Asia Minor, where the British feared any Russian advance so near to Persia, Russia retained most of its gains. The powers also recognized Russia's right to annex Bessarabia. Although territorial gains, an indemnity, expanded rights for the peoples of the Balkans, and a weakening of the Ottoman Turkish Empire remained as real accomplishments, nationalists like the panslav leader Ivan Aksakov were bitterly disappointed with Alexander's compromise. When Aksakov openly criticized Russian actions in Berlin, the government exiled him to the countryside and closed the Moscow Slavonic Committee.

When Gorchakov told Alexander that the Berlin Treaty was "the darkest page in my life," the hapless Tsar replied, "And in mine too."14
 
 

29

THE DEATH OF NEKRASOV

During the period that Alexander II was in the Balkans, a man who especially epitomized the alienated intellectuals' agonizing quest to serve the common people was slowly dying of cancer. He was the poet and editor Nicholas Nekrasov.

The decade following that infamous night at the English Club, when he had read his poem of praise to Count Michael Muraviev (the Hangman), had been a difficult but productive time for Nekrasov. He was often in poor health, and poems with titles such as "I Shall Soon Die" (1867) and "Despondency" (1874) reflect the bleak mood that often struck him. In 1871 he turned fifty. And as his hair continued to recede and along with his goatee showed signs of graying, he thought more and more of the past.

He could never forget his "fateful blunder" at the English Club. And although he lashed back at the many hypocritical voices that had mocked him for his performance that night, he never could quite forgive himself. He continued to live two lives, that of a wealthy landowner with a penchant for hunting, gambling, gastronomy, servants, and carriages, and that of a radical editor and poet. He was almost like one of Dostoevsky's fictional split personalities, and like some of them, he often berated himself for his sins. The radical poet in him did not much care for the wealthy landowner.

Although he had taken over and remade the Notes of the Fatherland into the most successful radical journal of its day, the running of it was often an agonizing job. He used all of his wiles and connections to keep the censors from emasculating it. And although he sometimes lost a battle with them, he was generally successful. He indicated to one of his friends that he also kept the journal going by financing it in part with his gambling winnings.

By the end of the sixties Nekrasov had parted with the French actress Celine Lefresne; and after a brief affair with another woman, he took as his mistress a nineteen-year-old prostitute whose name he changed from Fekla to Zinaida (or more commonly, Zina). She was a good natured, full-faced and full-figured young woman from the lower class. She had little education, but Nekrasov arranged language and music lessons for her and she often went with him to the theater. She also accompanied him and his sister Anna abroad when he went in 1873 to drink the waters at Bad Kissengen and to bathe at the resort town of Dieppe on the French coast of the English Channel. The spring before the trip, Nekrasov had complained of listlessness and loss of appetite, and so his doctor, like so many of this time, had recommended "taking the waters."

Nekrasov also usually took Zina with him when he went to his Karabikha estate near Yaroslavl or to a hunting lodge he bought at Chudovo, some seventy-five miles south of the capital by train. Once while hunting there with him on a May morning, she accidentally shot and killed his favorite dog, a black pointer called Kado. When they went to Karabikha, as they often did in the summers, they lived in the east wing while his brother and his family, to whom he transferred control of the property, resided in the main house. In addition to hunting and swimming there, he enjoyed walks in the parks on the estate. (See this link for a view of the upper park.) Sometimes he was accompanied by friends or family. At other times wearing only a dressing gown with a tasseled fez on his head and shoes but no socks, he would walk with his dogs.

At Karabikha he worked on some of his most famous poems.  He often paced back and forth, repeating lines to himself, until he was satisfied enough to jot down a line or two  From a second-story balcony he could look down at the lower park and beyond on the Kotorosl River, on fields and forests, on meadows and on villages with little white churches.

On one occasion, after several days of especially intensive work, he went out to the lower park and under a huge cedar tree read aloud to his brother and his wife the best part of his poem "Russian Women." It was about two of the Decembrist wives. Like Tolstoy and so many others of their generation, Nekrasov was especially fascinated with Prince Volkonsky and his wife Maria. Whereas Tolstoy had once begun a novel about a man much like the prince, Nekrasov had completed a narrative poem about a character also much like Volkonsky and entitled it "Granddad." During the following two years he completed "Russian Women." It was about Princess Trubetskaya and Princess Maria Volkonskaya and their heroic acts of joining their husbands in Siberian exile. Although naturally allowing himself some artistic license, Nekrasov first researched his two subjects thoroughly and consulted closely with Michael Volkonsky, the son of the Volkonsky couple.

Now an important official in the Ministry of Education, but one who admired Nekrasov's poetry, Michael Volkonsky reflected well the often tangled ideological strands of nineteenth-century Russia. Although the son of a political criminal, he also became a protégé of his parents' benefactor, Muraviev-Amursky. After leaving Siberia, he married one of his cousins, Elizabeth, who was the granddaughter of the head of the Third Division at the time the sentences of the Decembrists were being carried out.

While working on "Russian Women" the poet finally persuaded Volkonsky, with whom he sometimes hunted, to share with him the unpublished memoirs of his now deceased mother. And since they were written in French and Nekrasov's French was poor, Volkonsky spent three nights with him orally translating the work into Russian as Nekrasov took notes. On one occasion, Nekrasov was so touched by the memoirs that he jumped up, said "Stop," walked over to the fireplace, sat down, and began to cry like a baby.

By the summer of 1876, Nekrasov was suffering from agonizing pain, but it would not be until December that doctors would finally diagnose it as cancer of the rectum. Among the doctors whom he consulted that summer was the well-known Sergei Botkin, who, as we have seen, looked after the Tsar in Bulgaria during the following year. This physician was also the brother of a former non- radical contributor to The Contemporary, Vasily Botkin.1

At the end of the summer of 1876, Dr. Botkin was going to Yalta with the imperial family. Not yet knowing for certain what was troubling Nekrasov, he suggested that the poet also come to Yalta for the warm sea air and Crimean grapes. Nekrasov agreed. He and Zina spent September and most of October at the Hotel Rossiya, which was located near the main quay in the center of town. In front of the hotel, across the terrace and the quay, stretched the beautiful deep blue waters of the Black Sea. Behind the hotel, not far away arose the mountains. While he continued to suffer from pain and sleeplessness and remained thin and haggard, he felt that his condition was improving a little. He wrote to his sister that Botkin looked in on him almost every day and was very attentive to him and that the sea and the lush Yalta setting provided him with some peaceful moments. At times he would ride in a carriage into the hills or down past the Tsar's Livadia Palace to the royal grounds of Orianda, which at this time were open to the public. While the Tsar met with advisors, diplomats, and generals at Livadia and contemplated war with the Ottoman Empire, the sickly Nekrasov, only a mile away, wandered among the rare flowers, trees, and cascades of Orianda, which like Livadia sat up on a hill overlooking the sea. (See this link for a view of Livadia grounds.)

While in Yalta, Nekrasov wrote the last part of the long narrative poem "Who Is Happy in Russia?" and dedicated this last section to Dr. Botkin. He had been working on the poem off and on for over a decade. It depicted seven peasants wandering around Russia trying to discover who in their country could be happy and free. It presented a lively and realistic view of the difficult life of Russian peasants, but yet it pulsated, especially the last part he wrote in Yalta, with hope for the future. The peasants and the young intelligentsia dedicated to their service would yet win out over injustice and the miserable conditions of the peasants. The more miserable Nekrasov's own life, the more he suffered from physical and psychological pain, the more important it seemed to him to be the poetic voice of the people (narod). In 1874 he had written:
 

My soul is sick, my sorrow grows.

Narod! narod! Heroic in your service

I've not been, bad citizen that I am,

But a burning, holy anxiety

For your fate I've carried to the end.2

Shortly after the Tsar had issued his ultimatum to the Turks in order to save the Serbs from being routed, Dr. Botkin advised Nekrasov to leave the vulnerable Crimean area. Nekrasov took his advice, and by the end of October he was back in the capital. To his friends his condition appeared worse that ever. One of them, a co-editor of the Notes of the Fatherland, the satirist Saltykov-Shchedrin, noted that Nekrasov was now in almost constant pain, had lost his appetite, and had great difficulty sleeping. His thinning body and face contributed to the alarm which his friends felt for him. Nekrasov grew increasingly despondent and thought of suicide. Difficulties he had that fall with the censors contributed to his gloom, and they would not let him print the final portion of "Who Is Happy in Russia?"


In December, after his disease was finally diagnosed as cancer of the rectum, his doctors recommended an operation. Nekrasov said that he would rather die than subject himself to one. Nevertheless, his sister wrote to a famous surgeon in Vienna asking whether he would be willing to come to St. Petersburg in order to operate. Meanwhile her brother's suffering continued. Neither the opium, which he took three times a day, nor the loving care which she and Zina competed with each other to lavish upon him could do much to alleviate the pain. One December night he captured the suffering and Zina's tender, caring love when he wrote:
 

Already two hundred days,

Two hundred nights

My suffering continues;

Night and day

In your heart

My groans resound;

Already two hundred days, Two hundred nights!

Dark winter days,

Clear winter nights...

Zina! Close your weary eyes!

Zina! Sleep!3
 

In February and March, the Russian painter Ivan Kramskoi came to Nekrasov's Liteiny apartment. He was commissioned to paint the dying Nekrasov by one of Russia's new breed of wealthy businessmen, the deeply nationalistic art lover and collector Paul Tretyakov. (Note the copy of the Kramskoi painting displayed in the room where Nekrasov slept.)

Fourteen years earlier in the name of artistic freedom, Kramskoi had led a protest of fourteen art students against certain restrictions of the government-run Academy of Arts. He and the other artists then formed an artists' cooperative. At the beginning of the seventies he played an important role in helping to give birth to another organization, the Association of Traveling Art Exhibits. He and the other "Itinerants," as the members of this group called themselves, did not all share the same political ideas. Like Nekrasov, however, most of these gifted artists were sympathetic with the suffering masses and devoted to a realistic depiction of Russian life. Their paintings would become the best of Alexander II's era.  (Some of the paintings of artists who sooner or later joined this group have already been mentioned, especially in Chapter 26. For additional paintings of these artists see those listed under the following names on the Russian Art site of Professor Mitrevski: Ge, Kramskoy--a different spelling of Kramskoi--Kuinji, Miasoedov, Perov, Repin, Savitsky, Savrasov, Shishkin, Surikov, V. Vasnetsov, and Vereshchagin.  Among the paintings of later Itinerants, note especially those of Levitin.  See also the Dartmouth College site devoted to the Itinerants.)

In early April, just eight days before the declaration of war on the Ottoman Empire, Nekrasov took a step he had never cared to take before. He got married. It was a sign of his appreciation and love for Zina and perhaps of his desire to make her future more secure after his death. The ceremony occurred at Nekrasov's apartment. Since the only legal marriage that could be performed was a religious one, Nekrasov's friends arranged for the presence of an Orthodox priest. And through the War Department, they obtained and set up in Nekrasov's reception room a portable church tent. The pale, suffering, barefooted, gray-goateed Nekrasov wore only a long white shirt-gown.

One week later the famous Viennese surgeon Bilroth arrived in St. Petersburg in order to operate on Nekrasov. The poet had finally agreed. The following day the doctor came to Nekrasov's at 8:00 in the morning and checked him over. At 1:00 p.m. Bilroth performed a colotomy, but the patient had received chloroform and felt no pain during the operation.

Less than two months later, apparently in the beginning of June, Nekrasov had another well-known visitor, Ivan Turgenev. Since breaking off his relationship with Nekrasov in the early 1860s, Turgenev had remained hostile to his former editor and friend and to most of his poetry.

During recent years Turgenev had spent most of his time in and around Paris. In the city, he lived in Montmarte in four rooms above the quarters of Pauline Viardot and her family. And in Bougival, about an hour from the city on a bank overlooking the Seine, he and the Viardots in 1874 bought a large estate. Although Turgenev had a separate Swiss chalet constructed for himself on the property, he remained almost a member of the Viardot family. His life with the Viardots, as well as some of his stories of the early and mid seventies, indicated that he had still not outgrown or resolved some of the fears and passions of his childhood. Despite being three years younger than Turgenev, who would be sixty in 1878, Pauline must have continued on his unconscious level to remind him of his mother. Once in the early part of the decade when she was on concert tour, he wrote to her: "Your absence causes me physical anxiety, as if I didn't have enough air. It is a secret and obscure ennui from which I cannot escape....When you are here, I experience a calm joy, I feel at home, I wish nothing more."4

In Paris, Turgenev frequently associated with other writers, including George Sand, Flaubert, Zola, and the American Henry James. He and Flaubert became especially close. The Frenchman nicknamed his Russian friend the "soft pear,"5 due to his weak-willed nature and apparent lack of backbone. Although the "gentle giant," as some called him, was not always accommodating--he had after all quarreled with Tolstoy and Dostoevsky as well as Nekrasov--he had a reputation for being a man who found it difficult to say "no" unless an important principle was at stake. Some thought that on occasion the Viardots took advantage of his unwillingness to refuse a favor. He was frequently seen on the Paris streets running errands. And for the many Russians who for one reason or another turned up at his Paris address and besieged him with a variety of requests, he almost inevitably did what he could. He read manuscripts for them, wrote letters of recommendation, even lent them money. Most years, he also spent a month or two in Russia, and there were also occasional trips to London, Karlsbad, or other parts of Europe. But France had become his home base.

In January and February 1877, Turgenev's novel Virgin Soil appeared in the Russian journal The Messenger of Europe. Except for the short novel Spring Torrents, it was the first novel he had published since Smoke had appeared a decade before. In his new novel he depicted two young idealists, Nezhdanov and Marianna, who wished, like the radical Populists of the mid seventies, to "go to the people." But for his spokesman in the novel, Turgenev turned towards a new type individual: the sober factory manager Solomin, who had received scientific and technical schooling in England. Like Turgenev, he sympathized with the revolutionaries' desire to overcome Russian backwardness, but felt that revolutionary activities would prove fruitless. Only patient hard work among the peasants and their gradual enlightenment would bring positive results. Unlike Turgenev, Solomin came from a humble background, perhaps reflecting Turgenev's increasing doubts that any real reform would come from the efforts of his own class. Neither the Right nor the Left liked this new novel. Half of the government's censorship committee had voted against allowing the publication of the second part of it. Only the Minister of Interior's convoluted political reasoning had permitted the latter portion of Virgin Soil to appear. On the Left, Nekrasov's co-editor Saltykov-Shchedrin was very critical of Turgenev's portrayal of young radicals. And Nekrasov himself stated to a friend that he thought that the second part of the novel was not very good. Nekrasov thought that Turgenev was not objective enough, that he was too critical of the Populist movement.

At the end of May, while in the capital, Turgenev apparently received a note from Nekrasov in which the poet expressed his kind feelings towards Turgenev and his desire to see him. Knowing that Nekrasov was dying, Turgenev was willing under these circumstances to forget their past differences.

Death and the thought of dying continued to haunt Turgenev as it had for many years. The older he got, the more he heard about the deaths of friends and acquaintances of former days. The previous summer the frazzled but still rebellious Bakunin had died in a Berne hospital. The two men had once been close when they had studied together in Berlin twenty-five years earlier, but in the sixties and seventies Turgenev grew increasingly critical of the gigantic, slovenly rebel and his influence on Russian youth. Although Turgenev was not yet aware of it, at about the same time that he heard from Nekrasov, another old rebel, Nicholas Ogarev, was on his deathbed in Greenwhich, England. At the time of Herzen's death Bakunin had promised Ogarev: "We shall die in action."6 But then Bakunin had never been a very accurate prophet. In the same year as Bakunin's death, George Sand had died. This woman, whom Tolstoy had once so vehemently criticized in Nekrasov's old apartment, had become an especially close friend of Turgenev's during the seventies.

Just two months before hearing from Nekrasov, Turgenev had written in his diary: "My soul is darker than a dark night. It is as if the grave is hurrying to swallow me up."7 Except for the gout and a few minor ailments, Turgenev was not really in bad health for a man close to sixty, but the idea of visiting a dying man three years younger than himself was probably not one that Turgenev entertained with enthusiasm.

Nevertheless, accompanied by a mutual acquaintance, Turgenev came to the poet's apartment on the Liteiny Prospect. As Zina remembered the event many years later, she went to her husband's bedroom, helped him put on a dressing gown, and assisted him into their large dining room, where he sat down at the table. Turgenev approached from the reception room, through the poet's study, to the door of the dining room. He was carrying a top hat in his hand. His tall, full physique and full gray beard were quite a contrast to the smaller and emaciated Nekrasov. In a prose poem written about the meeting Turgenev wrote: "Yellow, wrinkled, completely bald, with a thin gray beard...he stretched out to me this terribly thin hand that looked as if it were gnawed upon."8

Turgenev's account and that of Zina differ somewhat, but the composite picture they present is a scene in which Nekrasov did not feel up to conversing with his former friend, and so no conversation took place. But the faces of both men revealed strong emotions. Turgenev was moved by the pitiful, hideous condition of Nekrasov and stayed only a minute or two. Zina says that he silently blessed her husband before leaving. Turgenev suggests that he took Nekrasov's hand and in the face of death was reconciled with his old friend. Neither account is very explicit as to the thoughts or exact emotions experienced by Nekrasov.

Overcoming some reservations about the bumpy carriage ride that would be necessary, Nekrasov rode out to spend July and August in a countryside dacha along the little Black River. At times he dictated to his sister or brother Constantine portions of memoirs he hoped to complete.

Back in the city during the fall, his condition continued to worsen. By December his appetite had almost disappeared; he usually felt too weak to move about, even with assistance, and his face had taken on a pale green pallor. Nevertheless, during these fall months he followed the news of the war in the papers, wrote some short poems, and in his weak, almost whispering voice talked occasionally with family or friends.

In a few of his poems he bemoaned the suffering which the war was causing both to the soldiers at the front and to their families and friends back at home. In the last poem which he ever wrote, he spoke, as he often had before, of his past failings and guilt. In the final months of his life, his 1866 poem to Muraviev "the Hangman" and other transgressions continued to haunt him. He hoped his love and poetic service to the people would make up for his sins, but he could not be sure.

In November one of his friends briefly cheered him up when he conveyed to him a message from the still exiled Chernyshevsky. From a miserable Siberian village several hundred kilometers from Yakutsk, this hero of the radical Left wrote to their mutual friend. "Tell him [Nekrasov] that I have always dearly loved him...that I thank him for his kindly disposition towards me...that I am convinced that his fame will be immortal and the love of Russia eternal towards him, the greatest and most valuable of Russian poets. I weep for him."9

Nekrasov had not forgotten the man whom it had once cost him so dearly to support. Earlier that year he had made provisions in his will for Chernyshevsky's family. And now when he received his message, he told his friend to write to Chernyshevsky, thanking him and telling him that his words were a great comfort.

It was apparently a few weeks after hearing the comforting words of Chernyshevsky that Nekrasov received his last visit from still another old acquaintance--Dostoevsky. Despite their considerable ideological differences, Dostoevsky never forgot Nekrasov's enthusiastic "discovery" of him in 1845 when they were both young men of twenty-three. In the January issue of The Diary of a Writer, Dostoevsky recalled how the young editor Nekrasov had come to his apartment shortly after 4:00 a.m. one warm, beautiful, bright-as-day St. Petersburg morning. He had come to give the young Dostoevsky the news so dear to every aspiring young writer-- that he (Nekrasov) had read Dostoevsky's first novel, Poor Folk, and considered it a triumph. In true Russian style, the usually reserved Nekrasov, had embraced him and been close to tears of happiness. Dostoevsky referred to this experience as part of "something so youthful, so fresh and good which is forever preserved in the hearts of those who have lived through this experience."10

In addition to this fond memory, Dostoevsky greatly appreciated much of Nekrasov's poetry. He especially liked that which reflected the poet's love of the people and his recognition of their suffering, goodness, and wisdom. Nekrasov had also once written a poem called "The Unfortunates," in which he depicted a brave political exile. When Dostoevsky returned from Siberian exile, Nekrasov told him that when he wrote the poem he was thinking of him. After Nekrasov had begun publishing Dostoevsky's A Raw Youth in the Notes of the Fatherland, they met on occasion. And when Dostoevsky heard that Nekrasov was seriously ill, he visited him from time to time. Sometimes they talked about the past. At other times Nekrasov would read to him one of his latest poems. Sometimes, if Nekrasov did not seem up to a visit, Dostoevsky would just ask one of the family or servants to convey his warm greetings. When Dostoevsky visited him late that fall, he thought that he looked like a corpse. A few weeks later Nekrasov suffered a stroke which paralyzed the right side of his body. He grew still weaker, complained of pain in his head and throat, and on December 26, 1877, in a barely distinct voice, he seemed to say farewell to his wife and sister. He died the following evening.

Dostoevsky heard the news the next morning and went to Nekrasov's apartment that same day to pay his respects. He thought that the corpse's face looked disfigured as a result of his suffering, and he recalled the psalmist reading over him the words "There is no man who has not sinned."11 After returning home, Dostoevsky picked up Nekrasov's collected poems and read one after another until 6:00 a.m. Early on the morning of December 30th, Dostoevsky and his wife Anna returned to Nekrasov's apartment to take part in the funeral procession. It was clear, cold, and frosty, and the late-rising winter sun still had not appeared. A crowd of young people, some carrying wreaths, were already there. At about 9:00 a.m. the coffin was carried out into the street, and the procession began. It headed southwest for the Novodevichy Convent, about four miles away. Across the Nevsky Prospect and past the Technological Institute, and then due south across the Obvodny Canal, the procession of thousands slowly made its way. The closed casket was supported on the shoulders of willing youths and friends. In front of the coffin others carried laurel wreaths bearing such inscriptions as "From Russian women," "To the poet of the people's suffering," "To Nekrasov from the students." Others in the procession heartily led the singing of a traditional hymn.

Dostoevsky allowed himself to be persuaded by the always solicitous Anna that it was too cold for him to accompany the crowd for the whole distance. So after a short time, he and Anna returned home. A few hours later they went to the church of the Novodevichy Convent. The procession did not arrive until close to 1:00 p.m. Between those waiting at the convent and those who had accompanied Nekrasov's body, the crowd now swelled to about five thousand. Writers and other members of the intelligentsia, members of other professions, workers, students, and professional revolutionaries were among the crowd.

One revolutionary organization, Land and Liberty, decided to openly take part in the funeral. The group had been formed the previous year, due in large part to the efforts of a friend of Sophia Perovskaya, who herself at present was among those being tried in the "Trial of the 193." The organization prepared a wreath reading "From the Socialists." Some of its members carried revolvers and were prepared to use them should the police try to seize the wreath.

After the service in the overheated church, into which only a small portion of the crowd could fit, the coffin was taken to the convent cemetery. Within its walls the crowd pressed against each other. The coffin was lowered into its grave; the last hymn was sung, and some of Nekrasov's friends and admirers spoke of him to those assembled. Dostoevsky was one of the speakers. He spoke of Nekrasov's love for the people, especially for the suffering and unfortunate. Dostoevsky said that the poet followed in the footsteps of Pushkin and Lermontov in introducing a "new word" into Russian poetry.12 One of the radical youth interrupted him and yelled that Nekrasov was greater than Pushkin or Lermontov. Others repeated the cry, but then allowed Dostoevsky to finish his remarks. By the time the crowd dispersed, the brief St. Petersburg daylight hours of this cold winter day had ended, and the sun had been replaced by the stars.
 
 

30

A VISIT TO A MONASTERY

Less than five months after the death of Nekrasov, Dostoevsky was crushed by the death of someone much closer to him, his two-year-old son Alyosha. One May morning in 1878, shortly before the family was to leave the capital for their summer retreat at Staraya Russa, Anna noticed that her little Alyosha's oval face began to twitch. She called the children's doctor, who came over, gave her a prescription, and assured her that the twitching would soon cease. But since it continued, she awoke Dostoevsky, and they decided to seek out a specialist in nervous disorders. The specialist promised to come as soon as possible and arrived early in the afternoon. By that time the infant was unconscious, and his little body convulsed sporadically in spasms. The doctor told Dostoevsky, but not Anna, that the boy was near death. Dostoevsky knelt down next to the couch where they had placed Alyosha. Anna knelt beside him, not knowing what the doctor had told her husband. About an hour later, after the convulsions had begun to occur less frequently, the infant stopped breathing. His father kissed him, made the sign of the cross over him three times, and let out his grief in sobs and tears. Anna and the other children, their eight-year-old daughter Lyubov and the six-year-old Fedor, also cried.

A few days later, after a church service, the family stood in the Great Okhta Cemetery on a beautiful May day and watched Alyosha's little white coffin being lowered into the ground.
Both father and mother were deeply distraught by the unexpected death. Dostoevsky was especially troubled by the thought that his boy had died of epilepsy, which he had inherited from him. Anna grew apathetic and her head swam with memories of her toddler. Each of the spouses tried to comfort the other. Anna asked a young friend of Dostoevsky to persuade her husband to accompany him to a monastery that he was planning to visit that summer.

The young friend was Vladimir Soloviev, the son of the historian. Dostoevsky had first met both Vladimir and his older brother Vsevolod in 1873. But in the beginning it was the older brother, a minor writer and government official, who became friendliest with Dostoevsky. It was not until Vladimir's return from Egypt, and his acceptance in early 1877 of a position on the Academic Committee of the Ministry of Education, that he settled in the capital and became a close friend of the older Dostoevsky.

Vladimir reminded Dostoevsky of a friend of his youth, a certain Shidlovsky, who had had a great influence on him. Anna, like many others, noted Soloviev's laughter. She thought it gay and infectious. But at least one society lady thought it repellent. It seems to have been loud and uninhibited, at times preceded by a shriek. (In the first lecture that he gave at the Higher Courses for Women in Moscow in 1875, Soloviev had stressed the ability to laugh as one of human nature's most important characteristics.) Anna also noted Soloviev's other-worldly, absent-minded nature, especially when he failed to notice that she was much younger than her husband. Soloviev's face reminded Dostoevsky of one of his favorite paintings, the "Head of the Young Christ" by Carracci. By the time they became close friends, the young man's pale face was framed against long, dark, wavy hair, accompanied by a mustache and beard which grew longer towards the end of the decade. But his deep, dark, penetrating eyes, under thick dark brows, remained his most notable feature. While many believed it the face of a mystic or holy man, others detected a certain sensuality in it. And indeed he was a man of strong erotic tendencies. But an almost obsessive fear of venereal disease, coupled with his ethical principles and mystical inclinations, enabled him to sublimate these tendencies into his mystical doctrine of Sophia, the vision of whom he had experienced in the Egyptian desert.

Despite the differences in age between Dostoevsky and the young Soloviev, the two men had a great deal in common. Both believed in a Russian messianic mission and in Russia's central role in helping to bring about a religious renaissance in the world. Dostoevsky tended to me more hostile to the West and its influences than did the young Soloviev, but at times the novelist also acknowledged the positive aspects of Western civilization and Russia's indebtedness to it. And Soloviev, on the other hand, like Dostoevsky, spoke of the West's recent degeneration into egoism and anarchy, into a condition of godlessness and the worship of money.

In April of 1877, just as Russia was preparing to go to war with the Ottoman Turks, Soloviev spelled out some of these ideas in a public lecture entitled "Three Forces." At this time he shared Dostoevsky's hope that the coming war would help to awaken the Russian nation to its religious mission in the world.

At the beginning of the following year, with the war still in progress, Soloviev began a series of twelve talks entitled "Lectures on Godmanhood." They continued into the spring. Soloviev decided that the proceeds from the lectures were to go to the Red Cross and for the restoration of the Church of the Holy Wisdom (Sophia) in Constantinople. Despite their rather abstract, philosophic nature, these lectures held in a lecture hall along the Fontanka Canal were well attended. Among the thousands who came to hear one or more of the twenty-five-year-old philosopher's lectures were Dostoevsky and Anna; Princess Volkonskaya, the daughter-in-law of the now dead Decembrist; Pobedonostsev, the chief adviser of the Tsarevich Alexander; and Leo Tolstoy.

On the only night Tolstoy attended, Soloviev read his lecture to a hall so packed that even women in their evening clothes were sitting on the window sills because there were no more empty chairs. The central theme of the lectures was the falling away of the world from the Divine and then the gradual incarnation of the Divine into the world. The appearance of Jesus Christ was the most perfect expression of this incarnation, but it was up to humanity to help bring about the more complete worldly incarnation of the Divine. Soloviev's idea of Godmanhood was closely related to his mystical visions of Sophia, or Holy Wisdom. He stated in one of the lectures that "Sophia is the ideal or perfect humanity, eternally contained in the integral divine being or Christ."1 Both Godmanhood and Sophia represented for the young philosopher and mystic his utopian desire to bridge the gap between heaven and earth and to create a universal oneness. As he had indicated years earlier to his cousin Katia, he hoped to help bring about the Kingdom of God on earth, "the kingdom of eternal, spiritual relations, of pure love and happiness."2

Although Tolstoy had found Soloviev's ideas stimulating when the young man had come to visit him at Yasnaya Polyana three years earlier, his private reaction now was "childish nonsense."3 But many others, including Dostoevsky, would have strongly disagreed had they known Tolstoy's reaction. Nevertheless, the Dostoevskys would very much have liked to have met Tolstoy that night all three of them attended the same lecture. Despite being critical of Tolstoy for his hostility toward Russian involvement in the war against the Turks, Dostoevsky greatly admired Tolstoy's just completed novel, Anna Karenina. But only later did the Dostoevskys discover that Tolstoy was at the lecture with a mutual friend. The friend was the critic Strakhov, who told them that Tolstoy had asked him not to introduce him to anybody. That was as close as the two great novelists ever came to meeting one another.

In addition to attending Soloviev's lectures, Dostoevsky was also present at a famous trial during the spring of that same year. This was the trial of Vera Zasulich, who was charged with shooting and wounding the head of the St. Petersburg police, General Trepov. Although not a disciple of Nechaev, Zasulich had known him and been arrested following the investigation of his murder of the student Ivanov. Now almost a decade later, after years of prison, exile, and more revolutionary activity, she heard that Trepov had had a young political prisoner flogged. She also knew that many of those who were being tried in the Trial of the 193 had already been in prison without a trial since being apprehended after "going to the people" in 1874. The injustice of it all, the thought of what these young people had to endure in prison, outraged her. Then on the day after verdicts had finally been reached in the Trial of the 193--almost half of the defendants including Sophia Perovskaya were found not guilty--Vera Zasulich walked into the office of Trepov, pulled a revolver out of her muff, and shot him.

Dostoevsky was fascinated with trials and managed to obtain a press pass to Zasulich's trial; it was held on the last day of March at the district court on the Liteiny Prospect, not far from the Neva River. Zasulich's defense attorney did not deny she had shot Trepov, but he pleaded with the jury to understand that she did it for a noble reason. After hearing all the testimony, the jurors withdrew to consider the verdict. Dostoevsky himself had mixed feelings, but this defender of Orthodoxy and Autocracy and critic of leftist radicalism was more pleased than upset when the jury returned with a verdict of "Not Guilty." The verdict and relieved reaction of some observers were bad omens for the government and another indication that support for Alexander II and his policies was weakening.

Dostoevsky's reaction was also indicative of a certain ambivalence that he, as well as many other intellectuals, had about the youthful revolutionaries. His feelings about them, however, were perhaps more unique than that of liberals such as Turgenev. In a letter to a group of Moscow students a few weeks after the trial, Dostoevsky criticized young radicals for adopting Western ideas and trying to convert the Russian people to them. The youth, he thought, should be learning from the people, especially from the people's fundamental principle, Russian Orthodoxy. Yet he blamed not so much the young, but rather Russia's educated society that had earlier turned its back on the peasants and their truth. He believed that never before had so many young people been "more sincere, more pure hearted, more thirsting for truth and justice, more willing to sacrifice everything, even their lives, for truth."4 Dostoevsky never forgot his own youth and how he had been filled with noble desires, but misled by Western ideas. He no doubt now hoped that he could help the young radicals of the 1870s to realize the errors of their ways without having to experience all the years of imprisonment and exile which he had.

Two years later, after the detonation of a bomb in the Winter Palace, he confessed that even had he somehow heard about this failed plan to blow up the Tsar, he would not have informed on the would-be assassins. He said it was because he did not want to be regarded as an informer, but it certainly was also an indication of his ambivalence toward young revolutionaries.

Although now a conservative in many ways, in others he continued to have more in common with young radicals than with old reactionaries. His utopianism (though now of a religious nature similar to that of the young Soloviev's) and his concern with improving the lives of the masses were two such ways. In 1875, he had noted in one of his notebooks that General Fadeev, whom the young Soloviev had met in Egypt, treated the socialist followers of Fourier too condescendingly. And a little later he included Fadeev among conservatives about whom he stated: "Our conservative part of society is just as shitty as the others."5 Overall, Dostoevsky remained a difficult man to label. Although his convictions were strong, they were often complex.

About a month after the death of his son, Dostoevsky left his wife and two children in Staraya Russa, located in the province of Novgorod, and took a train to Moscow. He intended to meet the young Soloviev there and go on with him to the famous Optina Monastery. But he also wanted to talk to the editor Katkov about a new novel he was planning and about a possible advance on it.

He arrived at about midnight on a Monday in late June. He was tired and exhausted and had been bothered by a cough on the train. He told the driver of his horse cab to take him to the Victoria Hotel, but the driver told him that men took prostitutes there, and it was not fit for a decent person. The driver advised the Hotel Europe across from the Little Theater, about one-quarter mile north of the Kremlin. There, as Dostoevsky wrote to Anna, he took a room for two and a half rubles--they both still watched their money carefully.

He did not sleep well that night. A choking cough tormented him. At about noon he went to see Katkov at his office on Strasnoi Boulevard. Considered a liberal until the early 1860s, Katkov had emerged after the Polish crisis and the Karakozov attempt as Russia's leading conservative nationalistic journalist and editor. He had also published in his The Russian Messenger most of the best writings of Russia's great novelists, although Turgenev finally broke off relations with him after the publication of Smoke and in 1874 referred to him as "the most disgusting and dangerous man in Russia."6 At about the time Dostoevsky met with Katkov, pictures depict his long-face ending in a neatly trimmed graying beard and his receding gray hair being combed straight back from his high forehead. His small pale blue eyes were a lusterless contrast to his spirit, which had earned him the sobriquet "Thunderer of Strastnoi Boulevard." Appropriately enough, a genuine thunderstorm erupted as he and Dostoevsky talked about the latter's projected novel, but nothing definite was settled. As the storm temporarily subsided, the novelist drove off to visit his oldest sister, Barbara, who lived in Moscow. After returning to the hotel for dinner, he set out at about 7:00 that evening to visit Vladimir Soloviev.

The Solovievs were staying, as they had in recent summers, at a cottage in the Neskuchny Garden. This was a beautiful park owned by the government. (See this link for a view of a "bathing house" in this park, which later became part of Gorky Park.) It spread itself out over many acres on the southern bank of the Moscow River. The privileges of residing there with his family went to Professor Soloviev for his years of service to the state. Up until the previous year, he had continued to serve it and his fellow professors as rector of Moscow University. He had also been selected in 1870 to be the director of the Armoury Chamber, a Kremlin historical museum. And for a time he also made special trips to the capital to give history lessons to the Tsar's youngest sons, Sergei and Paul.

Although a loyal, patriotic man, Professor Soloviev by now was privately very critical of the Tsar, who by sins of commission and omission had contributed to the deterioration that Soloviev now thought he saw all around him: the government had changed the liquor laws in 1863 and drunkenness had increased significantly;7 so had syphilis, as peasants moved back and forth from the city to the countryside; the gentry class was declining, as was respect for authority and the cohesiveness of family life; inflation, materialism, and greed, on the other hand, were increasing, along with deforestation, as trees were chopped down to feed the expanding network of railways.

According to Soloviev, the problem was not that Alexander had been mistaken to try by his early reforms to transform and modernize Russia, but that he was a weak man who feared to seem weak. Therefore, even if fate had been kind enough to send him a strong, capable minister, such as a Russian Bismarck, he would have dismissed him. And yet the Tsar himself did not provide a cohesive sense of direction to his generally incompetent ministers. Although Soloviev's assessment of his times was perhaps overly bleak, his characterization of the Tsar was echoed by many others who had had personal contact with their sovereign.

Soloviev considered one of the Tsar's ministers an especially "vile figure."8 This was Dmitry Tolstoy, the Minister of Education. Named to his post after the Karakozov attempt on the Tsar's life in 1866, this Tolstoy did not take long to incur the wrath of many professors. On one occasion in the late sixties, Soloviev resigned his position at the university because of Tolstoy's interference in its dealings. The Tsar, however, persuaded Soloviev to remain. In 1877, Soloviev again decided to resign due to a controversy which grew out of a proposed plan of Tolstoy's to revise the relatively liberal university statute of 1863. This statute in the eyes of Tolstoy and in the lackluster eyes of Katkov, who exercised considerable influence over him, allowed too much autonomy to the universities. Perceiving that he could no longer honorably remain as rector under these circumstances, and perhaps beginning to detect a deterioration of his health, Soloviev left the university.

One of his former colleagues who had resigned from the university in the late sixties, Boris Chicherin, later summed up Soloviev's career by saying that he was universally respected for his high sense of duty, his moderation, and his complete lack of arrogance or pettiness.

The controversy over the proposed educational changes had also earlier led to a resignation by the young Vladimir. After returning from Egypt, he had once again briefly resumed his teaching of philosophy at Moscow University. But he did not wish to get involved in a controversy with on the one side Katkov, who had befriended him after the defense of his Master's thesis, The Crisis of Western Philosophy, and on the other side, his father. It was this resignation that had led to his acceptance of a position in the capital.

When Dostoevsky arrived at Neskuchny Garden, he found the young Soloviev tired and gloomy. They agreed to leave for the monastery on Friday. During the next few days, Dostoevsky again talked to Katkov, who now agreed on a 2,000 ruble advance. And the novelist visited several others including the editor, journalist, and rabid panslavist Ivan Aksakov, who, like Katkov, had encouraged and praised the young Soloviev after the defense of his Master's thesis. While in Moscow, Dostoevsky also prayed before the icon of the Iberian Virgin in a chapel near the Kremlin and wrote to Anna about his activities, his lack of sleep, and his troubled nerves. As usual, he asked Anna to convey his love and kisses to his children.

On Friday he and Soloviev left by train for the Optina Monastery. They headed south past Tula, not far from where Leo Tolstoy's estate lay, and on towards Orel, near which stood Turgenev's property. Before reaching Orel, however, they got off the train and travelled west by carriage for two days over bumpy roads. Finally, they could see across a river, against a background of large pine and fir trees, the white monastery buildings and the blue-cupolated churches, with their golden crosses thrust into the air.

This monastery was one of the most famous in all of Russia. Countless Russians had visited it, many seeking help for their physical or spiritual maladies. Decades earlier the novelist Gogol had come. And just the previous year Tolstoy and Strakhov, who was also on friendly terms with Dostoevsky and Soloviev, together made a pilgrimage to the monastery. Many came in hopes of gaining a hearing from the Elder Ambrose. Some thought him a miracle worker and a saint, others just a wise man of God.

After settling into a small hut, Dostoevsky and Soloviev managed to see this holy man. According to Anna, Dostoevsky was able to twice talk to him alone. The elder resided in a little house with windows looking over a flower bed. There the novelist told the frail old man with kindly eyes about the death of his son and the grief it had caused him and especially his wife. The elder responded with words meant for both Dostoevsky and his wife. And not only did Dostoevsky convey them to Anna, but he also repeated their substance in the chapter "Peasant women who have faith" in his novel The Brothers Karamazov.

This was not the only passage of the recently begun novel which would be affected by his trip to the monastery. Both his friendship with Soloviev and his experiences at Optina would leave strong traces on it. The saintly monk of the novel, Zossima, and the monastery where he and the youngest Karamazov, Alyosha, reside are based in large part on Ambrose and Optina. When the novel appeared, some thought Alyosha was based partly on Soloviev and that the affection Zossima felt for the young monk mirrored that of the novelist for the young philosopher. Certainly Alyosha's dream of the coming of the Kingdom of God on earth was one that was shared by both Dostoevsky and his young friend. They also both believed, as Dostoevsky stated several months before, "in a real, literal and personal resurrection" that would "come about on earth."9

Perhaps, however, the middle Karamazov brother, Ivan, bore an even greater resemblance to Soloviev. At least Dostoevsky's wife thought so.10 Like Soloviev, Ivan is a brilliant philosopher with a strongly rational mind. Early in The Brothers Karamazov, in the chapter "So be it! So be it!", Ivan's ideas about the relationship of church and state are discussed. Although not absolutely the same as Soloviev's, they clearly reflect the influence of Soloviev's second lecture on Godmanhood. The key difference between Ivan and Soloviev was that the former's rationalism was not harnessed by faith and mysticism the way Soloviev's was.

While on the trip the two friends talked, at least briefly, of the new novel. They remained at Optina for two days and nights, then returned for two days along the same dusty, bumpy road, stopping in villages at night. Finally, they reached the train station and returned to Moscow.
 
 

31

TOLSTOY APOLOGIZES

In August 1878, several months after Dostoevsky and Soloviev returned from the Optina Monastery, Tolstoy and Turgenev rode together in Tolstoy's carriage over a dirt road heading for his estate at Yasnaya Polyana. It was the first time the two had been together since they had quarreled seventeen years earlier. The initiative for reconciliation came from Tolstoy. That April he had written to Turgenev: "Let us shake hands and, please, forgive me thoroughly for all that I was guilty of towards you....If you can forgive me, I offer you all the friendship of which I am capable. At our age, there is only one good--loving relations with people."1

Tolstoy had been prompted to write the letter by the effects of a prolonged spiritual crisis which he was then undergoing and which he later described in detail in his My Confession. At the very end of the previous decade, while in a strange town one night, he had experienced a horrifying fear of death. There seemed to be no specific cause for this night of anxiety and fear, spent in a strange inn, and after returning to Yasnaya Polyana he seemed to regain his inner balance. But gradually by the middle of the seventies the fear of death began to haunt him more and more, and it gradually transformed his life. Three months after his forty-seventh birthday he wrote to a friend that he felt old age had begun for him. He defined this as an "inner spiritual condition in which nothing from the outer world has any interest, in which there are no desires and one sees nothing but death ahead of one."2

Perhaps the deaths during the previous two years of three Tolstoy infants and his old aunt who had helped raise him contributed to his anxiety and fear. Perhaps he no longer felt like striving for anything except inner peace because he had obtained so much. His income from royalties and his properties made him financially secure. The estate on which he lived was a lovely place, resplendent with the glories of nature. Anna Karenina, which he was then writing and sharing with readers in Katkov's The Russian Messenger, was a success, and he had achieved all the fame one could reasonably desire. Despite the deaths of three children, he and Sonia still had five healthy children, three boys and two girls. Sonia, who was only thirty-one, was a capable and devoted wife and mother. He himself was in good physical condition.

But, he thought, what good was any of this when one realized that sooner or later the "dragon of death" awaited everyone. "So what" was the response that came from deep within him whenever he thought of his accomplishments, "why?" or "for what reason?" whenever he contemplated a new activity. Life had become meaningless for him.

It was not that he gave up and did not search ardently for the meaning of life. He did, but like a man lost in a dark forest, for a long time he could find no exit. The Orthodox faith in which he had been brought up had not had any real meaning for him since his teenage years. Nor did philosophy now offer him the answer he was seeking. For years the German Schopenhauer, who had also influenced Turgenev and the young Vladimir Soloviev, had been his favorite philosopher. But like Socrates and Buddha, Schopenhauer seemed to be saying to Tolstoy that death was better than life. Tolstoy recalled the German philosopher's words that "the passage into nothingness is the only good of life."3

Even though at this stage he could not envision anything after death but nothingness, he was strongly tempted to end his own life. His fear of death and his mental anguish seemed greater evils than death itself. He was not the type to patiently wait for his end to someday come. Yet, despite the darkness within him, he could not quite make up his mind to kill himself. Perhaps he had overlooked something. So as not to succumb to temptation in one of his many moments of despair, he removed a rope from his study and stopped taking his gun out to hunt.

Finally, he began to detect a glimmer of light in the dark forest of his mind. And he found that light among the simple peasants of Russia. Like some other intellectuals who had rejected their Orthodox roots, he could not find a satisfactory answer to the meaning of life in Western philosophies. Some, such as Turgenev, never found a satisfactory answer to this ultimate question. Others, like Dostoevsky, had already returned to a belief in the faith of the Russian people and never tired of suggesting that only by rediscovering the truth of the people (narod) and their Orthodoxy could the intellectuals find meaning and happiness.

While Dostoevsky discovered religious truth among the people, others found other truths among them. Herzen, Bakunin, Nekrasov, composers like Mussorgsky, painters like Kramskoi, many of the radicals who went to the countryside in the summer of 1874, all of them thought they had discovered some important virtues and truths among the Russian peasants.

Tolstoy later described his own condition as that of one who had cast off from shore in a boat and unknowingly headed for rapids which would kill him, until he finally came to his senses and rowed in the correct direction toward God. He was not the first nor the last intellectual of that period to envision himself searching for new shores. And shores, boats, and water were interpreted in different ways. But the fact was that many of Tolstoy's intellectual contemporaries had initially set out from the shores of Russian tradition, rejecting Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and the backward ways of the peasant. They metaphysically or actually visited foreign lands and imbibed foreign ideas, but eventually grew nostalgic for "mother Russia." Therefore, they returned in spirit or in fact and went among the people. Some tried to enlighten them, to educate them away from loyalty to church and state. Others returned to learn from the people. Some, like Tolstoy, would try to do both. But the deepest and most essential need seemed to be overcoming, one way or another, the separation from the people.

Tolstoy had remained closer to the peasants than most of his educated contemporaries, but he had rejected the Orthodoxy so dear to them, and now finally it seemed to him that it was their faith that gave meaning to their lives and which enabled them to face death without fear.  His mistake he believed had been to think that he could find the meaning of life through reason. But on the other hand, how could he accept religion if he thought it contrary to reason?

By the beginning of 1878, after his trip the previous summer to the Optina Monastery, he had worked out a solution and was once again following Orthodox practices. He prayed, went to church, and fasted. The answer he arrived at was that the important truths of religion were not accessible to reason, but beyond its powers to fathom. He no longer would attempt to hold up each church tradition and ritual to the test of reason, but would just swim along "like a fish in water."4 This did not mean he would accept all the pronouncements of the Orthodox hierarchy. If they were contrary to the voice of his heart, if they told him for example to pray for Russian successes in the war against Turkey, he would reject such teaching.

Tolstoy's solution, however, was a precarious one. In his own unique way, he had always been rebellious and rationalistic. Only his despair and his deep-seated desire to be united with the Russian people led him to forge such an answer.

During the winter preceding his letter to Turgenev, Tolstoy was working on a new novel. He had finished Anna Karenina, in which he had had his character Levin agonize over some of the same questions that were troubling him. (See Part VIII, Chs. 8-13.)  His thoughts now turned, as they had several decades earlier, to the subject of the Decembrists and their exile. He thought of having a Decembrist from the noble class come into contact with Russian peasants in the area around Irkutsk or in the Samara-Orenburg region. This would have enabled his Decembrist to discover the simple and good life of the peasants. The Tolstoys owned considerable territory in the province of Samara, and Tolstoy went there annually and was fascinated with this primitive area and its mixtures of peoples.

Not far east of Samara was Orenburg, and Tolstoy thought of using the military governor of that region during part of Nicholas I's reign as one of his chief prototypes. The man was Vasily Perovsky, the great uncle of little Sophia Perovskaya, the radical. Although preserving some liberal inclinations himself, Perovsky had stood with Nicholas against the Decembrists in 1825. What Tolstoy had read and heard about the man impressed him. Tolstoy asked his aunt, still in service to the royal family and one time friend of Perovsky, to send him all she could about him.

For the purpose of gathering materials for the novel he made several trips to Moscow and one to St. Petersburg. He talked to former Decembrists and their relatives, including a few of the Muraviev clan. In the capital, he visited his aunt, talked religion with her, and received from her letters written by Perovsky. He also visited the Peter and Paul Fortress, where the Decembrists had been imprisoned, and where he received a guided tour from the prison commandant. He left indignant with Nicholas I for being so harsh with the rebels. It was just a few days later that Tolstoy went to hear one of Vladimir Soloviev's lectures, the one in which both he and Dostoevsky were in the audience.

One of Tolstoy's sons later recalled that at about this time, his father ran into Alexander II on the steps of a photographic shop. As he let the Tsar pass, Tolstoy noticed the fear in his eyes, as if he thought that Tolstoy, who he did not know by sight, might be an assassin.

On the same day that Tolstoy wrote his letter of reconciliation to Turgenev, he wrote to his aunt about Vera Zasulich, her attempted assassination of General Trepov, and her trial. He believed that the animosity of the radicals and conservative government officials towards each other had reached "bestial proportions."5 Soon afterwards he wrote to a friend "the Zasulich affair is no joke. These people are the first terms in a series which we don't understand, but it's an important folly. The Slavonic business was the precursor of war, this could be the precursor of revolution."6

When Turgenev received Tolstoy's letter he was in Paris. He responded cordially and suggested that they might be able to see each other when he visited Russia that coming summer. In early August, just back from his Samara property, Tolstoy received a telegram from Turgenev announcing that he would come to see him at Yasnaya Polyana. Tolstoy took along his brother-in-law and went by carriage to Tula to bring Turgenev down to his estate.

Since Turgenev had last visited him, Tolstoy had enlarged the main house (see Tolstoy House Museum at this link) to make room for his ever-growing family. A sixth child, Andrei, had been born the year before, and a large household staff assisted husband and wife. The children were educated at home. Their mother and father gave them some lessons, and others were given by a whole array of tutors. Tolstoy, who had taught himself Greek, worked with his children on that subject. Among the teachers whom he hired was one young man named Alexeev, who had once been part of the Chaikovsky circle, the same radical group to which Sophia Perovskaya had belonged in the early seventies. But with Chaikovsky and a group of other Russians, Alexeev became converted to a new religion based on Christian teachings and left Russia for the Untied States. In Kansas they established a commune based on their beliefs, but after about two years he returned to Russia. By the time of Turgenev's visit he had settled in at Yasnaya Polyana with his common law wife and baby. His gentle religious ways endeared him to Tolstoy and the family.

Turgenev remained for two days. Both men were careful not to strain their fragile relationship. Sonia and the children were fascinated with the new arrival. Next to Tolstoy, who was of average height, he seemed a giant. Even though he was only a decade older than their father, to the children he seemed much older. His hair and beard were white, while Tolstoy's short hair and big bushy beard were still predominantly dark. In contrast to their father, who always liked to dress simply, Turgenev wore a silk shirt and tie, and matching velvet coat and vest. He had a pair of beautiful gold watches and a magnificent snuff-box. In his high pitched voice, which always seemed rather out of place in such a giant of a man, he told the Tolstoys that he had given up smoking because two nice Parisian women refused to kiss him unless he stopped. Such talk usually irritated Tolstoy, but if it did now, he refrained from saying so.

During the visit the two men spent some time in Tolstoy's study, where they apparently talked mainly of literature. The room was in a part of the house which had been added since Turgenev's last visit almost two decades earlier. It was here that Tolstoy had written Anna Karenina, a work about which Turgenev had mixed feelings.7 As with most of the rooms in the big house, this one seemed light and airy and was decorated rather modestly, with no hint of ostentatious display.

The two men also took long walks amidst the beautiful estate with its linden and birch alleys, its ponds, orchards, woods, and meadows. Both writers loved nature and hunting and were marvelous observers of the wonders of the countryside. Turgenev could tell the birds by their song. On one occasion Tolstoy stopped to stroke an old horse, whispered something to him, and then recounted to Turgenev what the horse was feeling. Turgenev was amazed at his ability to get inside a horse and told him that he must have been a horse himself in a previous life. Some years later Tolstoy would complete a story called "Kholstomer," which he told from a horse's point of view. Once while outdoors Turgenev settled his large body on one side of a see-saw, and the smaller but more muscular Tolstoy straddled the other side, and to the delight of others they began bouncing up and down.

Sonia thought Turgenev gentle, kind, and charming. She could see that compared to her husband, he was a softer, less decisive man, almost childlike in some ways. He played chess with their fifteen-year-old son and told of past experiences. Sonia thought his descriptive powers were wonderful. Switching back and forth from Russian to French, he talked with animation. He also spoke of the French people, described the villa that he and the Viardots possessed outside of Paris, imitated a hen and the pointing of his gun dog, and admitted he had a deathly fear of cholera.

At dinner when thirteen people sat down at the table, they joked about who would die first. In the past year Turgenev had not written much except some "Poems in Prose," many of which reflected his fear of aging and death. He now requested that those who were afraid of death should raise their hand, and he immediately raised his own. No one else joined him except a reluctant Tolstoy, who after a moment stated in French "Oh well, I also do not wish to die."8

When Turgenev prepared to leave to go to his own estate, he probably cheered Sonia further when he told Tolstoy that he had done well in marrying her. He departed cordially and promised to return soon.

Less than a month later, after leaving his estate, he stopped at Yasnaya Polyana on his way to Moscow. He spent three days there, and again left with good feelings towards the Tolstoys. Turgenev believed that Tolstoy had mellowed and matured with age. He also thought him Russia's greatest living writer. At least that is what he wrote to the poet Fet several weeks after the second visit. Tolstoy also wrote to Fet, but sounded a bit more skeptical. He said that Turgenev was the same as ever and that he (Tolstoy) had no illusions about how intimate they could become. To another friend he wrote that Turgenev was as kindly and brilliant as ever, but like a fountain, he might go dry at any time.

Turgenev did not see Tolstoy again for almost two years, but they occasionally wrote to each other. Turgenev enthusiastically recommended to his Parisian friends some of Tolstoy's works, including War and Peace, which appeared in a French translation at the end of the decade. In his letters to Tolstoy, Turgenev mentioned his efforts to spread Tolstoy's fame, and he also passed on favorable comments, such as those Flaubert made about War and Peace. In one letter Tolstoy displayed his old irritability when he unjustly suggested that Turgenev was making fun of him. But he ended this letter to Turgenev in an amicable fashion.

Although Turgenev did not write much of substance in this period, he did experience some triumphant moments. In early 1879, his brother's death led him to return to Russia, and he was lionized in both St. Petersburg and Moscow. He was especially moved by the reception given him by students in both cities. They cheered him at lectures and streamed to his lodgings. In his speeches, he defended liberal ideas, but even some radical students looked upon him with favor. The arch-conservative Pobedonostsev wrote of him: "This grey-haired madman Turgenev, like the crow praised to the skies by the fox, dissolves with emotion, and makes speeches in which he bows down with enthusiasm before the younger generation."9

Later that year Turgenev, who was the best known Russian writer abroad, received an honorary degree from Oxford University. Although he did not think that the red gown and black mortarboard hat were particularly suited to his Russian face, he was delighted. Since he was the first novelist of any country to be so honored by Oxford, he had good reason to be.

But perhaps sweetest of all his experiences in this period was a new love. He had always been a connoisseur of the bittersweet delights of "falling in love." They appealed to some deep emotional need within him. Now slightly over sixty, he fell in love with a Russian actress in her mid twenties. Her name was Maria Savina, and in early 1879 she was playing the role of Vera in his "A Month in the Country," a play he had written three decades earlier, but which up to now had hardly ever been performed. Savina had been primarily responsible for this new production, and she arranged for the author to be present one evening in the director's box at the capital's Alexandrinsky Theater. He was fascinated with this lively young woman of dark hair and dark eyes who played the role of a seventeen-year-old girl, and she at first was somewhat in awe of the famous author. But it probably did not take long for the resourceful and energetic Savina to feel completely at ease with the kindly and complementary old man.

They saw each other several more times before he left the capital for Paris, but it was only after he returned to St. Petersburg the following winter that he gradually began to express deeper feelings toward the young actress. After two months in St. Petersburg he wrote to her from Moscow that he loved her and that his dearest and best memories of the capital were of her.

In late April 1880, having been informed she was going to Odessa to perform, he made plans to come up from his estate and meet her train at Mtsensk. From there he would travel with her as far as Orel, or better yet, bring her to his estate for at least a one day visit before she resumed her journey. First, however, he had to leave Moscow and go down to his estate. He decided to visit Tolstoy on the way.

During the twenty months since their last meeting, Tolstoy's religious seeking had continued. But it had not solidified his Orthodox beliefs. His restless, questioning mind could not long accept Orthodox teachings that seemed senseless to him. While continuing to revere Jesus and the Gospels, he came to reject many of the teachings of the Orthodox Church, including the doctrine of the Trinity. He also became critical of church-state relations in Russia. He believed that religion should negate temporal authority, not try to buttress it up. Prior to Turgenev's spring visit, Tolstoy had begun work on a book he would entitle A Critique of Dogmatic Theology.

On the novel he had planned about Decembrists, however, he had given up. Instead, for a brief time he contemplated writing a novel which would begin in the reign of Peter the Great. The novel he had begun working on in the early seventies set in Peter's era had never gotten very far. In March 1879, he went to Moscow hoping to gather new material on the early eighteenth century. While there he went to visit the historian Soloviev, of whose approach to history he was so critical. Earlier in the decade while working on Peter he had received some help from him, and now he wanted some more advice. Unfortunately, Soloviev was not at home. By the end of that year, Tolstoy had lost any enthusiasm for working on a historical novel.

Turgenev arrived at Yasnaya Polyana on May 2, 1880 and stayed for two days. He hoped while there to persuade Tolstoy to take part in upcoming festivities surrounding the unveiling of a Pushkin monument in Moscow. Never one for such bustle and now more doubtful than ever of the value of elite literary activities, Tolstoy refused. Although he believed that Turgenev disapproved of his current immersion in religious questions and his neglect of art, the two men got along fairly well. Tolstoy thought that their conversations about literature and other subjects were interesting and found it "both painful and comforting" to be with Turgenev.10

Yasnaya Polyana was lovely at this time. Spring was in the air. The trees were coming alive, the birds were chirping. The two old friends went out to shoot snipe, Turgenev in a brown coat and wide-brimmed hat. Sonia and some of the older Tolstoy children accompanied them. While they waited in their positions for the snipe to fly over, Sonia asked her guest why he did not write any more. He told her that his writing had always in the past been provided by a "fever of love,"11 but that now he was too old and could neither love nor write.

His statement, however, was not quite true, for a few days later he was at his Spasskoe estate writing anxiously to hear from Maria Savina about meeting her train.

The longed-for meeting finally occurred in the middle of the month. He boarded her train at the Mtsensk station, only about seven miles from his estate, and rode with her for about an hour until they reached Orel. For this brief time the sixty-one-year-old Turgenev felt almost like a young man again. He later said if he lived for a hundred years he would not forget their kisses on the train that night. When he got out at Orel, he stood outside the open window of her cozy compartment and said good-bye. However, he was disappointed that she could not come to his estate with him for a day or two. He later confessed to her that for a brief moment he thought of pulling her from the window and carrying her off with him. The decision, he said, hung by a thread. But surely he exaggerated. One can hardly imagine the irresolute Turgenev performing such a bold action.

After spending the night in Orel, he returned to his estate and for the next few days could not get the young Maria out of his mind. The weather was beautiful, sunny and warm, but whether walking among the tree-lined alleys of his park or sitting on his terrace, images of her continued to haunt him. "What a night... [they] could have spent" if she had come to his estate!12 What happiness she would have given him! Such were this thoughts.
 
 

32

"PROPHET, PROPHET"

On July 1, 1879, Vladimir Soloviev wrote to a friend: "I am living through a very sad time."1 He went on to explain that his father was suffering from an incurable heart disease. The son was then with his sick father at the Neskuchny Garden. On a summer night, amidst the trees, ponds, and ravines of this large park, one could sometimes hear from down below on the Moscow River voices singing "Down along the Mother Volga." The Solovievs stayed that summer in the best part of Neskuchny, at one of the pavilions near the royal-owned  Alexander Palace.

Just a few days before, they had celebrated the father's name day. Family and friends were there, and Tsar Alexander's tall sons Sergei and Paul, whom the professor had tutored, stopped by. He sat on the flagstone terrace with a blanket wrapped around his swollen legs. His receding hair and full beard were white and his eyes seemed calm and benign, but he knew that although he was only fifty-nine, he probably had not much longer to live. Nevertheless, as he had done now for almost three decades, he continued writing his History of Russia from Ancient Times. That summer he worked over volume twenty-nine, dealing with an early portion of Catherine the Great's reign.

Early in October, after the family had moved back to its spacious apartment about a mile west of the Kremlin, the professor died. Shortly before his death, he asked his wife to be brave and told her of the financial provisions he had made for the family after his death. The legacy he left her and the eight children, five daughters and three sons, was quite substantial--professors were part of the state bureaucracy, and in his distinguished career he had reached a rank equivalent to that of a lieutenant general. Upon his father's death, Vladimir sobbed heavily and remained up almost all night reading prayers over the body. (See this link for a photo of the white tombstone of Soloviev's grave at the Novodevichy Convent, with that of Vladimir on the far left.)

By the middle of October, Vladimir was back in the capital and arrived at Dostoevsky's apartment one morning carrying a large cardboard package. Dostoevsky had returned late that summer from Bad Ems, and the Dostoevskys were now living on the second floor of a four-story building near the Church of Our Lady of Vladimir, about a half a mile west of the Nicholas train station. They had six rooms in addition to a kitchen, hall, and large store-room. (See this link for a photo of the Dostoevskys' drawing or sitting room.)

When Soloviev arrived, Dostoevsky was still asleep. Fortified by cigarettes and strong tea, he generally worked at his study desk until the early morning hours. He was still writing The Brothers Karamazov. Only about half of it had already been written and published in installments in The Russian Messenger.

Inside Soloviev's package was a large photographic reproduction of Dostoevsky's favorite painting, Raphael's Sistine Madonna, which the novelist had admired many times in the Dresden Art Gallery. A mutual female friend of Dostoevsky and the young philosopher had heard of Dostoevsky's fondness for the picture and arranged to have it sent to her by friends in Dresden. Dostoevsky's wife, Anna, decided to have it framed and to surprise her husband on his fifty-eighth birthday, which was coming up on the thirtieth of the month.

When he found out who was ultimately responsible for the gift, he went over on his birthday to thank her. The lady was Countess Sophia Tolstaya, now in her fifties, and the widow of the poet Alexei Tolstoy. The poet had been a distant cousin of Leo Tolstoy and like him had been more distantly related to Alexander II's Minister of Education, Dmitry Tolstoy. He also had been a first cousin to Lev Perovsky, the father of the young radical Sophia Perovskaya. Alexei Tolstoy had been a childhood friend of Alexander II's and early in his reign an aide-de-camp to him and a good friend of the Empress. In addition to his poetry, some of which Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky had recently put to music, he had also written historical novels and dramas.

Sophia Tolstaya, who had been a widow now for four years, was a strong-willed woman of great culture: she spoke numerous languages, had a beautiful singing voice, loved music, poetry, art, and philosophy and was her husband's best critic. Soon after Dostoevsky's birthday visit to her, the conservative poet Fet would write to her, "I was highly amazed by your intellectual capacities....There are very few women who read poets and philosophers in the original; but I know of no other woman but you who reads and really understands [them]."2 Some thought that Fet's friend Leo Tolstoy had used her as one of his prototypes for Anna Karenina.3

In the late seventies, this cultured widow hosted one of the most fashionable salons in the capital. There, dressed in black, amidst dimly lit rooms decorated with Hindu statues and smelling of hyacinths, the countess welcomed numerous writers and thinkers. Among them were Dostoevsky, Soloviev, and occasionally, when he was in town, Turgenev. Writers mixed there with society women possessing literary interests, such as Countess Volkonskaya, the daughter-in-law of the old Decembrist, and Julia Abaza, the wife of the man who in earlier days had lost huge sums of money playing cards with Nekrasov and who in 1880 would be named Alexander's Minister of Finance. At times Countess Tolstaya prevailed upon one of the writers to read from his works, and Dostoevsky read there some selections from The Brothers Karamazov. He also often stopped in to see the countess and have tea with her when he went out on his afternoon walks.

Staying with the countess in those years was her niece Sophia Khitrovo, who had three young children. Dostoevsky also became friendly with her and enjoyed bringing her children and his together to play. While Sophia Khitrovo was a friend to Dostoevsky, she was much more to the young Soloviev. He was deeply in love with this married woman who was several years older than he. Her husband, from whom she was estranged, was a career diplomat who served under General Ignatiev in Constantinople and in 1880 became the Russian general counsel in Bulgaria.

Soloviev had become friendly with the two women partly as a result of his friendship with the man who had joined him in Cairo, Prince Dmitry Tsertelev. He was a nephew of Alexei Tolstoy. In addition, Soloviev greatly valued Tolstoy's poetry, especially that which dealt with human and divine love and their interconnection. Soloviev also liked much of the humorous poetry that Tolstoy had written and was so good at, and Soloviev himself had tried his hand at the writing of such verse. His friendship with the wife of this man, who shared her husband's spiritual interests, and his attraction to her niece were thus not surprising. The two women attended Soloviev's Lectures on Godmanhood, and he often visited them at the lovely Tolstoy estates, Pustynka, not far from the capital, and Krasny Rog, which was near the city of Bryansk, about 250 miles southeast of Moscow. The latter estate consisted of more than 60,000 acres. Contemporary visitors to those estates, such as the poet Fet, found them among the most beautiful in Russia.

But whether walking along the shores of the Tosno River or among the large old pines, both at Pustynka, or down the lime alleys or among the rare and beautiful flowers and plants of Krasny Rog, Soloviev was often melancholy. For his love of Sophia Khitrovo was not fully reciprocated. She was a refined, graceful, cultured, and well-traveled woman. Her small, round, youthful face with its slanted hazel eyes had an Asiatic look about it. She had a regal walk and beautiful hands. But she seemed at times to toy with Soloviev's affections. There was an element of sado-masochism in their relationship, with Soloviev on the receiving end. He seemed to be attracted to such strong, complex women, to whom he could subordinate himself. Some of his poems of this period captured his fluctuating, agonizing feelings towards her.
 

You are more slender and beautiful than a wild gazelle

And your speech is infinitely profound--

Touranian Eve, Madonna of the steppes

    from "Gazeli pustyn..." 18784
 

You are leaving and my heart in this hour of parting

No longer resounds with longing and supplication;

It is weary from years of long torment,

From unnecessary lies, despair, and tedium,

It has surrendered and resigned to its fate.

from "Ukhodish ty," 18805
 

Oh, how in you the pure azure

Is mixed with many dark, dark clouds!

How clearly above you shines the reflection of God,

But how oppressive and burning in you is the evil fire.

from "O kak..." 18806

Besides his friendship with Vladimir Soloviev, Sophia Tolstaya, and Sophia Khitrovo, Dostoevsky continued his good relations with Constantine Pobedonostsev, the chief adviser of the Tsar's oldest son, the Tsarevich Alexander. Although the ascetic-looking adviser possessed a much more skeptical disposition than did Dostoevsky, the novelist admired his wide-ranging intellect and shared his interest in religion and politics. Because Dostoevsky's writings seemed to support the Autocracy, Orthodoxy, and conservative nationalism so dear to Pobedonostsev, the adviser recommended these works to various members of the royal family. He also played a part in arranging from time to time for Dostoevsky to meet and talk with the Tsar's two youngest sons, Sergei and Paul, the same two who had visited Professor Soloviev.


Early in April 1880, Dostoevsky and Anna attended Vladimir Soloviev's defense of his doctoral dissertation at St. Petersburg University. He entitled it "A Critique of Abstract Principles," and in it he tried to demonstrate that the rationalism, empiricism, and positivism of the West were an insufficient basis for personal, social, and political life, and that faith and religion were also necessary. Although his dissertation reflected his considerable knowledge of Western philosophy, and was especially influenced by the thinking of German philosophers such as Boehme, Kant, Schelling, and Schopenhauer, young Soloviev's mystical longing for the unity of the human and divine, for the Sophia of the Egyptian desert, was never far below the surface. The Dostoevskys thought that Soloviev performed brilliantly at the defense, and after the crowd on hand dispersed, the novelist congratulated his friend on his successful performance.

About a month and a half later, Dostoevsky left Anna and the two children at their summer home in Staraya Russa and took a train to Moscow. He had thought of taking his family with him, but he and Anna finally concluded that they could not afford the expense. Although they might have been able to finance it if just Anna accompanied him, he had become too anxious about the health and safety of their children to leave them with anyone besides Anna.

The primary reason for the trip was to give a speech as part of the celebrations surrounding the unveiling of a monument to his favorite writer, Alexander Pushkin. Before reaching Moscow, however, while stopped at the Tver station, he discovered that the Pushkin festivities had been postponed by government order.

After arriving in Moscow and checking in at the Loskutnaya Hotel, across from the historical museum being constructed at the end of Red Square, he wrote to Anna that he was thinking of leaving Moscow in four or five days. In fact, however, once he discovered that the Pushkin celebration had been rescheduled for early June, he remained for two and a half weeks.

Nevertheless, in letters to Anna he agonized over the decision of whether to stay or return to Staraya Russa. He was still writing The Brothers Karamazov and, as always, he had deadlines to meet. He disliked taking too long away from his desk at Staraya Russa, and he hated being separated from Anna and the children. He complained of sleeping poorly and of having nightmares, including dreams of Anna being unfaithful to him. On the other hand, his participation in the events surrounding Pushkin was too important to him and to others for him to return without participating. If his speech was a success, he thought he would be more famous as a writer, more on a level perhaps with Tolstoy and Turgenev. Then there were the political considerations. Dostoevsky knew that in his speech he intended to praise Russia and to criticize those who would deny Russia's real and potential greatness. He feared that in their speeches liberal Westernizers such as his rival Turgenev, who had returned to Moscow from his estate, would attempt just such a denial. Dostoevsky seemed to think of the speaker's platform as a field of battle on which Westernizers and Slavophiles would joust with each other, using their talks on Pushkin as their lances. And as he explained to Anna, he was the main hope of the Slavophile camp.

Dostoevsky's assessment was partly correct. Turgenev was part of the event's organizing committee operating in behalf of the Society of Lovers of Russian Literature. He and many others hoped that the celebration might mark an important turning point, signaling the increased participation of educated public opinion in the country's important affairs, whether cultural, social, or political. Turgenev's liberal aspirations, however, did not prevent him from attempting to block any official participation in the ceremonies by the conservative editor Katkov.

During the two weeks in which Dostoevsky waited impatiently for the festivities to begin, he visited with friends and relatives, went to the opera and visited the Armoury Museum. One evening the staff of the journal Russian Thought hosted a luxurious dinner at the Hermitage Restaurant for him. The already published installments of The Brothers Karamazov had increased his reputation, and he was happy with the attention lavished upon him. Included in those who honored him that night was Nicholas Rubenstein, one of the famous brothers who had done so much to further Russian music. Among the gossip that Dostoevsky heard in Moscow was the news that Turgenev had just visited Tolstoy and that the latter was deranged.

During all this time, Anna worried about her husband's health. His doctor had told Anna that due to his emphysema and the weak blood vessels in his lungs, he should be kept from too much excitement. She was also afraid that he might have one of his epileptic seizures, which he had not had since March, and be taken for a madman.

Meanwhile, enthusiasm among educated society increased dramatically as the celebration neared. A temporary relaxation of newspaper censorship and speculation about the upcoming events' significance helped fuel the growing excitement. Even commercial vendors attempted to cash in on it, as candy, cigarettes, and vodka packaged with Pushkin's image or words suddenly appeared.

Finally on the sixth of June, after a two-hour religious service at the monastery across the street, bells pealed, a chorus sang the Russian anthem, and the new statue of Pushkin was unveiled on Strastnaya Square. The square was packed with men in frock coats and top hats and ladies in long dresses and bonnets. Some carried banners and wreathes. To the accompaniment of music, those carrying the wreaths came forward and placed them at the base of the monument. Beyond the square itself, crowds stretched in various directions, with overall estimates of those on hand ranging from 100,000 to over 500,000.

That afternoon there were more ceremonies at Moscow University, where Turgenev was elected an honorary faculty member, followed by a dinner at the Noblemen's Club and musical and literary activities based on Pushkin's works. Nicholas Rubenstein conducted an orchestra accompanied by a chorus and several opera singers. One of the works performed that night was a scene from Eugene Onegin, the recently composed Tchaikovsky opera based on Pushkin's great work. Among those who read from Pushkin's works were Dostoevsky and Turgenev. But Turgenev, to the former's chagrin, received more applause than he. Dostoevsky told Anna that a good deal of the applause for Turgenev had come from students of a "westernizing" professor who had packed the room with them. In general, however, Dostoevsky was pleased with the reception that he and his reading received.

The next day there were more speeches and another literary dinner. Turgenev gave his speech on Pushkin that day, but neither its delivery nor content made much of an impression. Dostoevsky thought that the speech underrated Pushkin. However, compared to the one Dostoevsky was planning to deliver the next day, almost any speech would not have been enthusiastic enough.

Dostoevsky's turn was to come at the Noblemen's Club on the following day, the 8th. On the night before his speech he wrote to Anna telling her that he was afraid he might have an epileptic seizure.

When on the next day he walked up to the podium and looked out on the packed crowd, he was greeted with thunderous applause. As compared to the majestic white-haired and bearded Turgenev, who sat not far away with some of the other writers, Dostoevsky seemed unimposing. His hair and long beard were still mostly reddish-brown, with some traces of gray. And he stood there a little stoop-shouldered in a loose fitting frock coat, wrinkled shirt, and white tie. In response to the applause, he bowed and tried to quiet the crowd. Finally, he began to read his speech. And as he did, he seemed transformed. His usual low voice became strong and firm as he spoke with emotion and deep conviction. He seemed to stand straighter and his usually tired-looking eyes came alive. Time and again his speech was interrupted by applause.

In it he told his listeners that Pushkin had well understood that a Russian could not find meaning and happiness if he cut himself off from the Russian people and their traditions. Dostoevsky depicted Pushkin's Eugene Onegin as such a rootless man, but the heroine Tatyana as one who remained true to her Russian roots. Listeners might have been reminded of the parallel with Raskolnikov and Sonia in Crime and Punishment. Dostoevsky also spoke of Pushkin's unique ability among world writers to depict the spirit of foreign peoples, to empathize with them. In manifesting this aptitude, Dostoevsky believed that Pushkin was a prophet or forerunner of other Russians who would follow after him. For it was Russia's role to understand and reconcile other nations or, as Dostoevsky stated it, "to include within our soul by brotherly love all our brethren, and at last, it may be, to pronounce the final Word of the great general harmony, of the final brotherly communion of all nations in accordance with the law of the gospel of Christ."7

By the time he finished his speech, the people in the audience were ready to unleash a barrage of Russian emotion. They rushed up to embrace him, to kiss him, to present him with a wreath of flowers. There were tears, endless cheers, and even a fainting. The other writers on the platform with him also kissed and embraced him. Even a teary-eyed Turgenev, who earlier in the festivities had refused to respond to Katkov's efforts at reconciliation, now hugged Dostoevsky. The Pushkin speech was perhaps the crowning moment of his difficult life. He had always felt slighted when he compared the accolades received by others, especially by his rival Turgenev. As he wrote Anna that night: "This is a great victory for our ideas over twenty-five years of mistakes!"8

The tremendous impact of the speech was due in part to an appeal to Russian pride, which had been heightened by all of the events calling to mind the country's greatest poet. But despite its appeal to Russian nationalism and messianism, the speech seemed at first less anti-Western and more conciliatory than some of Dostoevsky's writings. He stated that "all our Slavophilism and Westernism is only a great misunderstanding." To a true Russian, he said, the fate of Europe was "as dear as Russia herself," because Russia's "destiny is universality, won not by the sword, but by the strength of brotherhood and our fraternal aspiration to reunite mankind."9

Words such as these, plus a brief, but most favorable passing comment by him about one of Turgenev's heroines, helped in the atmosphere of the day to foster a spirit of reconciliation. That night Dostoevsky wrote to Anna that Ivan Aksakov came to the platform after his speech and said that it was not just a speech but a political event and that his words, like the sun, had shed new light, and from that moment on there would be true brotherhood and no more misunderstanding. Dostoevsky also told her of two old men who came up to him and said they had been enemies for twenty years, but that his speech had reconciled them. They called him a saint and a prophet and others took up the cry, "prophet, prophet." That same evening he read at a final literary-musical event. By coincidence it had earlier been arranged for him to recite Pushkin's poem "The Prophet," which he did by heart. To many in attendance that night it seemed strangely fitting.

For a brief period before and during the Pushkin celebration, culminating on the day of Dostoevsky's triumph, optimism was the dominant note expressed by newspapers and public opinion in general. The spirit of these days calls to mind that of 1856 when Kavelin and Chicherin had hoped to unite public opinion around a banner of liberalism. The educated public, specifically Russia's intellectuals, had played the leading part in organizing the Pushkin events, and this fact gave rise to increased expectations for a greater role for educated society in determining Russia's future. To fulfill such a role, however, required not only a continuing reduction of government controls, but a more unified sense of purpose on the part of intellectuals than they had displayed in the past. Dostoevsky's speech temporarily offered hope that some of the divisions separating intellectuals could be overcome. Yet moments of reconciliation, like warm days in winter, never lasted long in the Russia of Alexander II.

Two days after his triumphant speech he left Moscow and returned, exhausted, but very happy, to Anna and the children at Staraya Russa. Vladimir Soloviev, Countess Tolstaya, and Julia Abaza, meanwhile had sent a telegram of congratulations to Staraya Russa. Dostoevsky's call for Russia to peacefully help bring about the "brotherly communion of all nations in accordance with the law of the gospel of Christ" was very much in keeping with the young Soloviev's most ardent hopes for world unity.

Back in the study of the family's two-story summer home across the road from the Pererytitsa River, Dostoevsky continued working on The Brothers Karamazov. But he also noted to his dismay that after Katkov printed the Pushkin speech in his conservative newspaper, many of the liberal papers in Moscow and St. Petersburg came out with critical articles about it--throughout Russia in the six months following his speech it was reviewed in over forty journals and newspapers. As Anna put it, it was as if they had "awoke from their trance, and began to excoriate the speech and demean its author."10 Although Turgenev did not publicly join the criticism, he also "awoke" and was privately critical, saying that despite the brilliance of it, it was based on deceit. Dostoevsky answered another liberal critic in a polemical article which he published along with his Pushkin speech in a special edition of The Diary of a Writer, which he had not published for several years.

Dostoevsky's critics insisted that his speech had little practical usefulness, that it offered no help in confronting Russia's real problems. The main difference between his liberal critics and him, however, continued to revolve around two topics: 1) Russia and the West and 2) the respective roles of intellectuals and common people. Although always valuing education, Dostoevsky continued to insist that the common people's Orthodoxy was more valuable than any Western-based ideas that intellectuals might wish to instill in them.

By early autumn, Dostoevsky had completed The Brothers Karamazov and the family had returned to St. Petersburg. That autumn and early winter he began planning to regularly publish once again his The Diary of a Writer, and he wrote several articles for the January issue. One dealt with the sad state of Russian finances and with spreading poverty--exacerbated, of course, by the Russo-Turkish War, which Dostoevsky had so ardently supported. He, however, also blamed others such as Jews and railway financiers. And even though earlier he had advocated railway expansion, he now wrote that "the railroads were built at the expense of the destruction of agriculture."11 But more fundamentally, he blamed Western influence and the intellectuals' failure to learn Orthodox values from the Russian people--who, he noted in passing, looked to the Tsar for "their whole ideology, their hopes and beliefs."12 He told his readers to worry less about budget deficits, foreign debts, and the value of the ruble, and to disregard talk of military cuts. Let educated society turn to the people, join with them spiritually, and economic improvements would naturally follow.

Another article dealt with Russia and Asia. Dostoevsky was heartened by the most recent victories of General Skobelev, whose activities on several fronts during the Russo-Turkish War had won him wide acclaim as a daring  young general. Now in Central Asia, he conquered Geok-Tepe, which lengthened Russia's border with Persia. Dostoevsky applauded such Russian advances in Asia. Since Europe despised Russia, perhaps Russia would be better off for awhile abstaining from involvement in Europe and concentrating on playing a civilizing role in Asia. European nations being what they were would fight among themselves anyway, providing Russia with later opportunities. Dostoevsky was not very specific about goals and means, but he was hopeful that the "conviction of the invincibility of the White Czar and of his sword grow and spread...to the very borders of India and in India herself."13 Although Dostoevsky still hoped that sometime in a future hour of crisis Europe would turn to a reinvigorated Christian Russia for spiritual enlightenment, this article spoke less of the "brotherhood" of Russia and Western Europe and more of the hostility between them.

This piece, however, was not to appear during his lifetime. Nor was a sequel he planned of The Brothers Karamazov. In it, he told the editor A. Suvorin, Alyosha would leave his monastery, become a revolutionary, and be executed.

During the last week of January, Dostoevsky began spitting up blood. The exact cause is not known. But his lungs had been weak for years, and his emphysema had progressively worsened. According to Anna, the hemorrhaging began following the exertion of moving a bookcase to obtain a dropped penholder--also used for rolling cigarettes--and an argument with a visitor over one of the forthcoming articles in The Diary of a Writer. According to their daughter, it was a visit of Dostoevsky's sister Vera and an argument over an inheritance that set off the flow of blood. In either case, the hemorrhaging continued for a few days. Dostoevsky lay on his couch underneath his picture of the Sistine Madonna. Doctors came and went. A priest from nearby St. Vladimir's came and administered the sacraments. Dostoevsky told Anna he was going to die. He asked for the copy of the Gospels given to him by some of the Decembrist wives, decades ago when he was on his way to a Siberian prison. He said good-bye to Anna and the two children. On Wednesday, the 28th, at a little past 8:30 p.m., he died.

On that following Sunday he was buried at the Alexander Nevsky Monastery. (See this link for Dostoevsky's grave.) The previous day his body had been escorted to the monastery by a crowd even larger than that which had accompanied Nekrasov's body to the Novodevichy Convent. Now on Sunday, just as at Nekrasov's funeral, the graveyard was packed with people. After the coffin was lowered into the ground, various speakers paid tribute to the novelist. One was Vladimir Soloviev. He spoke with great feeling about Dostoevsky's belief that evil could be overcome by Christian love and forgiveness and of the writer's life-long desire for the coming of a "kingdom of truth" on earth.14 By the time the crowd left the cemetery, the street lights had already been lighted.
 
 

33

A DEATH AND A MARRIAGE

On that May day in 1880 that Dostoevsky left Staraya Russa for the Pushkin celebration in Moscow, the Empress Maria died, finally succumbing to tuberculosis. Her death had been the reason for the delay in beginning the Pushkin festivities. The nation had been in official mourning.

When his wife died, alone in her oxygen supplied bedroom in the Winter Palace, Alexander was with Katia and their children at Tsarskoe Selo. Since September 1878, when she was born, there had been a new member of the family, the couple's infant daughter, named Katia after her mother. On hearing the news of Maria's death, the Tsar immediately took the short train ride into the city. Days of mourning and requiem services followed.

After the Empress's body lay in the Winter Palace for a few days, it was transferred to the cathedral of the Peter and Paul Fortress. It was a gloomy Monday, rainy, windy, almost stormy in the morning when the procession wound its way over the Neva to the fortress

. On horseback and in military uniform, Alexander rode behind the body of his wife. Foreign dignitaries, family, and others followed behind. After a few days of lying in state, the body of the Empress was finally buried in the fortress cathedral.

One of the foreign princes at the funeral was the Empress's nephew, Alexander of Battenburg. The previous year, the Russians had helped to put him on the Bulgarian throne, but only as a limited constitutional monarch. Although a Russian protectorate after the Russo-Turkish war, the new Bulgarian state was allowed to establish a constitution that allowed full civil liberties and the creation of a strong national assembly based on universal manhood suffrage.

Alexander II's role in helping to create such a government in Bulgaria had helped once again to stimulate hopes for movement in such a direction within Russia itself. In Tver, where two of Bakunin's brothers and others had spoken out and been briefly imprisoned for it in 1862, the provincial zemstvo assembly passed the following resolution:

The Emperor, in his care for the Bulgars, liberated from the Turkish yoke, has found it necessary to grant them true self-government, inviolability of personal rights, independence of the judiciary, and freedom of press. The zemstvo of the province of Tver ventures to hope that the Russian people who have borne all the burdens of the war with such readiness, with such unreserved love for their Tzar-Liberator, will be granted the same benefits, which alone will enable them to enter, in the words of the Tzar, on the way of gradual, peaceful, and legitimate development.1

As with the war against Napoleon and the Crimean War, the war against the Ottoman Empire and the treaties which followed contributed to increasing agitation in Russia. Zemstvo spokesmen, peasants, workers, university faculty and students, revolutionaries, conservatives like Ivan Aksakov who were bitter over the Berlin peace treaty, and moderates such as Professor Soloviev, none of them seemed very satisfied with the condition of the country. Many educated people, like Professor Soloviev, privately blamed Alexander himself for many of the problems. At court, Alexander's continuing preference for his beloved Katia continued to undermine respect for him. Dostoevsky's conservative friend Pobedonostsev thought at the end of the seventies that Alexander was a "pitiful and unfortunate man" whose will was exhausted and who wanted "only the pleasures of the belly."2

Following the acquittal of Vera Zasulich in 1878 and then again after an assassination that summer of the chief of the gendarmes, Alexander approved a number of new reactionary measures to stem the growth of resistance. To prevent juries from acting as they had in the Zasulich case, such cases and other types of political subversion were to be dealt with by military courts under wartime procedures. The government also beefed up police forces in the countryside and in the cities.

Following the assassination of the governor-general of Kharkov in February 1879, Alexander himself just missed being assassinated in April. He was returning to the Winter Palace from a morning walk when a revolutionary, but not a very good marksman, took four or five shots at him from close range. Alexander escaped without injury, but the young would-be assassin was hanged the following month before a crowd of thousands.

The Tsar and his ministers now stepped up the pace of repression. Alexander set up new military governors in the areas of St. Petersburg, Kharkov, and Odessa. In these areas and in those of Moscow, Kiev, and Warsaw, where governor-generals already existed, he instituted martial law provisions. By the summer of that year, the government had curtailed not only some judicial rights, but also some of those of the zemstvos, of educational institutions, and of the press.

In November and then again in February, the revolutionary organization the People's Will organized two more near successful attempts on the Tsar's life. The first aimed at blowing up his train as it was coming into Moscow one night on the Kursk-Moscow line. Fortunately for Alexander, however, a last-minute change had put his baggage train in the position in which his personal train should have been. Instead of the flowing of the Tsar's blood, all that flowed was jam from containers being transported from the Tsar's Crimean estates. In the February attempt, blood did flow, but not Alexander's. A young revolutionary workman had obtained a job within the Winter Palace and managed to set off dynamite two floors beneath the Tsar's dining room.  (See this link for views of some of the rooms inside the palace.) Usually Alexander was there by 6:00 p.m., but on this dreary evening he was delayed by a meeting with Alexander, the new Bulgarian monarch. Moreover, it is doubtful whether the explosion would have been powerful enough to kill the Tsar two floors above. But it did kill eleven and wound fifty-six others, mainly soldiers who were closer to the blast.

In both of these two attempts the main culprits escaped immediate apprehension, and the government was left looking inept and foolish. After the explosion in the Winter Palace, wild rumors spread around the city, and some who could afford to do so left the capital. The Tsar's brother, referring to the terrorists, lamented in his diary, "we do not see, do not know, do not have the slightest idea of their numbers....Universal panic."3 These words, like those earlier of the Tver assembly, reflected the general crisis of this period. It was a time of exaggerated hopes and fears. For better or worse, changes of some sort seemed inevitable.

Four days after the explosion in the Winter Palace, Alexander decided to establish a Supreme Administrative Commission with General Loris-Melikov as its head. This commission and particularly its chairman would soon prove to be much more powerful than the type of investigating commission headed by Muraviev "the Hangman" after the Karakozov attempt in 1866.

Loris-Melikov was a dark-haired and whiskered Armenian in his mid fifties. As a young cadet in the early 1840s he had briefly shared an apartment with Nekrasov and maintained a life-long love of his poetry. He had also been a war hero in the Russo-Turkish war and had most recently proved himself an able administrator as governor-general of the Kharkov Province. He was an energetic, intelligent, and flexible man whose appointment was welcomed by both the conservative and liberal press. His job and that of his commission was to deal with the revolutionaries. But he attempted to do this not only by strengthening direct government and police efforts against them, but also by gaining public support for the government.

By the time of the Empress's funeral, Loris-Melikov had made some important gains. His powers had gradually broadened, and he had become almost an assistant Tsar for internal affairs. Terrorism abated and the public became more favorable to governmental efforts. Loris-Melikov ended some of the abuses against personal rights brought about by the reaction of the last few years, and he was sympathetic with increasing the rights of the zemstvos and the press. The relatively free atmosphere surrounding the Pushkin celebrations and the hopes expressed for a greater role for public opinion owed not a little to the efforts of Loris-Melikov. His most popular move was obtaining the dismissal of the Minister of Education and Procurator of the Holy Synod, Dmitry Tolstoy. The general's contempt for this man matched that of Professor Soloviev, who had thought him such a "vile figure." Loris-Melikov blamed this Tolstoy more than any other person for inadvertently fostering the growth of the revolutionary movement. Despite Tolstoy's inadvertent help, however, the underground paper of the People's Will praised Loris-Melikov for his role in getting rid of this "Minister of Obscurantism."4

Forty days after his wife's death, the Tsar attended the traditional mourning service in her honor at the cathedral of the Sts. Peter and Paul Fortress. Shortly before this sad occasion, he told one of his closest friends and aides, Count Adlerberg, that he intended to marry Katia. In his memoirs, War Minister Milyutin, who thought that the Tsar "was completely in the hands" of Katia, recounted what happened next. Adlerberg tried to persuade the Tsar that such an early marriage would be a mistake, but Alexander insisted that his conscience dictated such a step.

Several days later, after the mourning service, the Tsar and Adlerberg again discussed the matter in the Tsar's study, and the count tried to persuade him to wait at least the year usually mandated by the Orthodox Church before remarrying. While Adlerberg spoke, Alexander sat silently listening to him with a pale face and trembling hands. He believed that he had to marry Katia because he owed it to her and their three children. For fourteen years Katia had sacrificed everything for him, including her youthful years; and considering the dangers to his life, he could no longer afford to put off his moral debt. When Adlerberg finished speaking, the Tsar silently left the room and Katia came in to berate the count for trying to dissuade the Tsar from fulfilling his "debt of honor." The two of them argued for some time. According to Adlerberg, when Alexander returned and stuck his head in the doorway to meekly ask if it were time for him to enter, Katia answered, "No, leave us to finish the conversation."5  (See this link for a 1879 photo of Katia.)

Not surprisingly, Adlerberg did not much care for Katia. Like many at court he thought her uncultured and arrogant. It was not clear, however, exactly how many others Alexander told of his plans, but the number was certainly few. The Tsarevich and other members of the Tsar's family quite naturally resented Katia and had for some time. There were rumors that two years earlier Alexander had given Katia and their children rooms in the Winter Palace and that in her final time on earth the Empress could hear the rival family above her. There were other derogatory comments about Katia's supposed influence on the Tsar and about how the attempts on the Tsar's life were God's punishment for his "sinful" ways. Although the Tsar's attachment to Katia and his treatment of the Empress were enough by themselves to create tension within the royal family, any plans to marry Katia could only increase the bitterness. To marry so soon after the death of his wife would seem disrespectful to her memory. There was also the question of the inheritance. Even though Alexander planned a morganatic marriage, the Tsarevich, his wife, and other members of the Tsar's family could not be absolutely sure what rights Katia and her children might be able to gain in the future.

Several days after Adlerberg's argument with Katia, the Tsar married her in a secret ceremony at Tsarskoe Selo. It was a sunny, warm Sunday in early July, and the old Tsar and his much younger wife seemed as much in love as ever. The Tsarevich and his family were then vacationing at the seaside resort of Gapsal, where his mother and his father in 1856 had happily surprised him and his three brothers with a visit. A little over a month after their marriage, Alexander, Katia, and their children left for the Tsar's Crimean estate. Security precautions were extensive. While at the Livadia estate, Alexander appeared officially for the first time with Katia and the children. Although most of the court remained cold to Katia, Loris-Melikov seems to have accepted and gotten along well with her.

By this time Alexander had abolished the Supreme Commission, which Loris-Melikov had headed, but instead made him the Minister of the Interior, in which position he remained the second most powerful man in Russia. In addition, he also continued his two-pronged attack of trying to use more effective means against the revolutionaries and pushing for modest reforms--he persuaded the Tsar, for example, to abolish the salt tax. He also managed to have the Tsar replace certain officials with ones more to his liking. In the fall Alexander appointed as Minister of Finance the liberal A. A. Abaza, the same Abaza who earlier had constantly been in debt to Nekrasov as a result of gambling losses--appropriate experience perhaps for a man who would manage the finances of a government now spending over twenty percent of its total expenditures just to service its growing debt.

The new Finance Minister and the liberal War Minister, Dmitry Milyutin, were by the end of the year Loris-Melikov's closest political allies. However, the Tsarevich, who had at first supported him, gradually became more critical. This was probably due to the Tsarevich's perception that the Armenian general was becoming too friendly with Katia. The influence of the heir's liberal-hating adviser, Pobedonostsev, undoubtedly also played a part in increasing the Tsarevich's distrust of Loris-Melikov.

In November, Alexander and Katia left the mountains, sea, and warmth of Livadia and came back to the cold capital. Before leaving, however, Alexander made up a will for his new family, for whom he had already deposited more than three million gold rubles in the state bank.
 
 

34

TWO CONSPIRATORS

Shortly after the Tsar's return from the Crimea, Sophia Perovskaya was on the streets watching his movement about the capital. She was one of the leaders of the People's Will, and she and her friends were again plotting to kill him. Her job and that of a small group aiding her was to detect any pattern in the Tsar's activities as his carriage sped around the city.

For a long time she had been against assassinations. After being released from prison in 1874 and spending some time with her mother in the Crimea, she had worked as a doctor's apprentice in the Simbirsk Province and then attended a course for doctors' assistants in Simferopol, where her father had once been vice-governor. After graduating, she was put in charge of arranging a couple of barracks for wounded soldiers who would be brought to Simferopol as a result of the hostilities just begun against the Ottoman Empire. But before any arrived, she was ordered to the capital to take part in the Trial of the 193, most of whose defendants had been arrested three years earlier for engaging in revolutionary propaganda. At the time of Zasulich's shooting of General Trepov, which occurred the day after Sophia's own acquittal, she still believed that the weapons of the revolutionaries should be words and not guns. Yet tales which she heard of mistreatment of prisoners angered her, and her opposition to actions such as those of Zasulich began to soften.

Following the Zasulich shooting and trial, more and more of her fellow revolutionaries began turning to the use of terroristic methods. The circumstances Sophia and others often found themselves in encouraged this: she worked in St. Petersburg and then in Kharkov aiding imprisoned friends and trying to help some of them escape. By late 1878, she had joined the revolutionary group Land and Liberty, formed by her friend Mark Natanson, who had also begun the earlier Chaikovsky circle. After witnessing the mass arrests following the "going-to-the-people" movement of 1874, Natanson and others decided that the revolutionary movement needed a new organization. For it they adopted the same name used by the short-lived revolutionary group aided in the early sixties by Herzen, Ogarev, and Bakunin. And the ideas of all three men, especially those of Bakunin, continued to live on in the new Land and Liberty.  [For a summary of the "to the people" movement (narodnichestvo), see this link.]

By the time Sophia joined it, Natanson had been arrested, but about two hundred other members, scattered around the country, carried on the work. A small number of revolutionaries in the capital attempted to provide overall direction. The activities of Land and Liberty included propaganda among workers and peasants, the writing and clandestine printing of the group's publications, the forging of internal passports, fund raising, and the gathering of intelligence about police and government movements. A number of activities fell under the classification "disorganization." These included liberating prisoners, killing informers, and assassinating government officials.

As the number of assassinations increased in 1878 and 1879, it finally led to the break up of Land and Liberty into two opposing groups. Those who advocated using terror, hoping thereby to bring down the government, called themselves the People's Will. Those who opposed this emphasis, which they thought came at the expense of work among the people, became known as the Black Repartition. For a short time Sophia wavered between the two groups, but finally decided to join the People's Will. In November 1879, she was one of the small group who blew up the Tsar's baggage train.

At this time the ultimate stated goal of the People's Will was the creation of a society which would have the following characteristics: 1. land would be owned by the peasants; 2. the peasant commune would be the basic economic and administrative unit of the country; 3. factories would be owned by the workers; 4. a considerable degree of political power would be on the local level; 5. freedom of speech, etc. would exist; and 6. the army would be transformed into a militia. Most members of the People's Will concluded that the best way to create such a society was to quickly overthrow the present government and allow the will of the people to be heard in a freely elected constituent assembly.

The party's emphasis on haste was stimulated by its alarm at the quickening pace of capitalistic development, sponsored by "the greatest capitalist force in the country"--the government.1 The underground journal of the party wrote of the evils of this Tsarist policy and especially pointed to the suffering caused by the government's support of railway tycoons and shareholders: "The building of railways in Russia provides a spectacle that is unique anywhere in the world; they are all built with the cash of peasants and the State which, for no apparent reason, hands out hundreds of millions to the various business men."2 Fearing increasing exploitation as the capitalist class, aided by the state, grew stronger, the People's Will hoped to undercut its development by destroying its chief source of support. Terroristic methods were to be used in order to weaken, demoralize, and panic the Tsar's government and to awaken the common people to the realization that the government could be overthrown. When the time was ripe for such a takeover, the People's Will hoped to play a central role.

Although Sophia had overcome her scruples about assassinations, she remained more skeptical than some of her fellow revolutionaries about the wisdom of attempting to establish a constituent assembly. She was afraid it would be dominated by manipulative politicians and financiers and never lead to the socialist type society she and other revolutionaries desired. More in the spirit of Bakunin, she hoped for a national peasant uprising, followed by the direct establishment of federated peasant communes. In the spring of 1880, following the failed attempt inside the Winter Palace, Sophia went to Odessa to direct still another effort on the Tsar's life. But Alexander II did not pass through the city as expected, and Sophia returned to St. Petersburg.

By the time that Alexander II went to the Crimea that summer, the People's Will had organized at least six separate assassination efforts against him. Only two, the Moscow train attempt and the one in the Winter Palace, had gotten to the point of actually being carried out.

From Sophia's return to St. Petersburg in the spring until the Tsar's return in the late fall of that year, she was busy propagandizing among the St. Petersburg workers and helping her party to expand its influence and contacts. As a member of its executive committee of twenty to thirty members, she played a central role.

By the following winter, some five or six hundred people, primarily industrial workers in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Odessa, Kharkov, and Rostov-on-the Don, were associated with the People's Will. There were also several thousand sympathizers who offered sporadic assistance. One such individual was Nicholas Mikhailovsky, a leading journalist and editor of Nekrasov's former journal, Notes of the Fatherland. He hoped to help bring about a united opposition of the revolutionaries with less radical opponents of the Tsarist regime. On occasion he wrote under a pseudonym for the journal of the People's Will. Through this clandestine publication, which reached thousands, and by the organization's audacious attempts on the Tsar's life, it seemed a larger and more powerful group than it really was.

While the Tsar was in the Crimea, Sophia's party did not attempt to assassinate him. It would have been difficult to accomplish there, and there were also other considerations. Several of the members of the executive committee were in jail awaiting proceedings against them, and it is likely that their friends and fellow conspirators did not wish to jeopardize their fate. But when two of them, A. Kvyatkovsky and A. Presnyakov, the former a cousin of Bakunin's wife, were condemned and put to death in early November, Sophia and a majority of the committee decided to renew their attempts against Alexander II. Thus it was that upon his return the executive committee placed Sophia in charge of scouting his movements.

Early in December, Sophia made her report to the committee and soon afterwards it decided to rent a shop on Malaya Sadovaya Street, just off the Nevsky Prospect. From the cheese shop they would open there, the revolutionaries hoped to dig a tunnel out to the street, set dynamite under it, and blow up the Tsar's carriage as it passed over Malaya Sadovaya on its way to the riding stables, where the Tsar usually went on Sundays.

By the end of 1880, Sophia and most of her friends were wanted by the police. One of the conspirators of the Moscow attempt had been arrested and implicated them. His confession greatly aided the police; arrests increased, and the leaders who remained free felt the increasing danger that faced them. Life at this time offered few moments of relaxation.

But on New Year's Eve they tried to forget for an evening their revolutionary work and anxieties. About twenty of them met that evening in a flat on Zabalkansky Prospect, in the southern part of the city. Outside a blizzard whirled the snow around. Inside they ate, drank wine, and sang folk songs. A large man with a dark beard insisted that no one talk of their work and that everyone should have fun. He danced with all the women.

The man's name was Andrei Zhelyabov, and Sophia had fallen in love with him and was now sharing his bed. What a contrast the two presented! (See two pictures of him, the first when he was still a student, and the second a drawing of him in 1881.) He was tall and powerfully built; she was small and slender. He had dark hair and a long face ending in a long dark beard; her hair was lighter, and although she possessed a large forehead, her face ended in a small chin. He was born in the Crimea, the son of a serf; she in the capital, and her father had once been civilian governor of the St. Petersburg Province. Despite being several years older than Sophia, he was the more impetuous, outgoing, and magnetic of the two; she was quieter and more restrained. But they also shared a number of qualities: they were both strong willed, intelligent, courageous, and hated the Tsarist regime and the injustices that they thought it perpetrated. The two radicals shared a poorly furnished flat consisting of two rooms and a kitchen, not far from where the New Year's Eve party was being held. In addition to her revolutionary work, Sophia did the housework and shopping.

Late in November, Zhelyabov had suggested postponing the assassination of the Tsar while he and some others went to the Volga provinces. As a result of a crop failure that year, the peasants' misery and hunger were increasing. With his own peasant background, he was especially sympathetic to the plight of the peasants. He offered to lead a peasant revolt, which, if nothing else, would force the government to aid the hunger-stricken. But the executive committee did not support his suggestion. Therefore, he once again devoted his enormous energy to the plot against Alexander II. In January he and others began digging the tunnel from their newly opened cheese shop out to the street.

While the People's Will was preparing this assassination attempt, Alexander was not only trying to rule the Empire, but also to win some degree of acceptance for his new wife. In January he held a sumptuous state ball at the Winter Palace. (See this link for a description of such a ball later in the century.)  There, amidst palm trees, orchids, and gigantic chandeliers, his guests danced waltzes, quadrilles, and mazurkas. The uniforms and decorations of Russian officials, officers, and foreign ambassadors were matched by the diamond diadems and assorted pearl, emerald, sapphire, and ruby rings, bracelets, necklaces, and brooches of the noble women in their long dresses. As others sat down at midnight to eat the various delicacies prepared by the royal chefs, Alexander escorted Katia around from one table to the next to pay his hospitality calls. Katia looked nervous. Alexander tried to be pleasant. But it was probably not difficult for the couple to discern the hostility many still felt for the Princess Yurevskaya, the official name Alexander had bestowed upon Katia. Rumors circulated that she wanted to have herself crowned Empress and that Loris-Melikov encouraged the idea. Immediately after the meal, the royal couple, contrary to etiquette, departed. Despite all the powers of a Russian autocrat, he could not force society to feel kindly toward his new wife.

That same month, the People's Will received a letter from a man about whom many of them still had ambivalent feelings, the infamous Sergei Nechaev. Since being extradited to Russia almost a decade before, he had been imprisoned. Now in the dreaded Peter and Paul Fortress, he had managed to win over some guards and to smuggle out a request to help him escape. The committee agreed to do so, but the attempt was to occur only after they had completed the assassination of Alexander II. Meanwhile, Nechaev continued to bombard the committee with ciphered letters of advice. Zhelyabov was in charge of responding to him.

Zhelyabov also played the leading role in the preparations for the assassination attempt. He persuaded the executive committee, which continued to dwindle due to arrests, to agree to some back-up plans should the mine under the street fail to blow up Alexander. His fellow revolutionaries agreed that he could organize a bomb squad prepared to hurl five-pound bombs at the Tsar if the mine plot failed to come off. And if that also failed, Zhelyabov would attack the Tsar with a dagger.

By late February, Zhelyabov was showing signs of strain. Despite the comfort Sophia's love gave him, he had trouble sleeping and often paced the bedroom trying to sort out the schemes that percolated in his head. He was not eating enough and had fainted once or twice. Meanwhile, he tried to hurry on the preparations for the assassination. He, Sophia, and the others decided that Sunday, March 1, was to be the day. He continued helping to prepare the mine under the street, seeming to seek out physical work as a release for tension; and he recruited and prepared his youthful squad of four bomb throwers.

The Friday before the scheduled attempt, he and Sophia left their apartment in the dusky late afternoon and took a horse cab to the Imperial Library, where they separated. After parting, they both realized that they were being followed, but each of them seemed to successfully elude their police agents. Zhelyabov went later that evening to see one of his fellow revolutionaries, but the police had his friend's apartment under observation. They managed to seize both men. Before the night was out, Zhelyabov and his friend were in jail.
 
 

35

BOMBS AND BLOOD

The morning after Zhelyabov's arrest, the Tsar, Katia, and their eight-year-old son, Gogo, attended a two-hour Lenten service in the chapel of the Winter Palace. (See this link for a photo of Alexander II, apparently together with his infant daughter in early 1881.) The Tsarevich and other members of the royal family were also present. Later, sometime after breakfasting with Katia, the Tsar heard the welcome news that the terrorist leader Zhelyabov had been arrested. Alexander seemed in good spirits that day, the danger of assassination seemed to be receding.

On that same Saturday, after Zhelyabov had failed to come back to their apartment the previous night, Sophia Perovskaya also discovered that her companion was now imprisoned. In addition, she learned that on that very morning the police had checked out the cheese shop, but had not discovered the tunnel. She and the other still free members of the executive committee decided to go ahead with plans to assassinate the Tsar on the following day.

In a flat on the corner of the Voznesensky Prospect and the Catherine Canal, where they met that afternoon, the other revolutionaries accepted Sophia's request that she be allowed to take Zhelyabov's place directing the bomb throwers. They were, however, only to spring into action if plans to set off the mine under the street failed. Following the meeting, she and one of the other revolutionaries returned to Sophia's apartment to retrieve anything of importance left behind. Now that Zhelyabov had been arrested, it was no longer safe for her to remain there.

Later that evening, after several other trips, she returned to the flat on the Catherine Canal. A bathhouse was located in the same building, and the revolutionaries hoped, therefore, that their comings and goings would not attract special attention. Inside the apartment three of her friends were preparing bombs. A fourth, the "lady of the house" and a fellow revolutionary, Vera Figner, persuaded her to lie down and save her strength for the next day. Meanwhile, Figner and the three men continued making the bombs. When Figner went to bed at 2:00 a.m., the other three continued their work. At 7:00, when she and Sophia got up, they were still at it.

That same morning the Tsar attended a church service and then ate breakfast with Katia. Loris-Melikov came over to the palace to show him the final draft of a project that he had been working on for over a month. Alexander met with him in his study, a room filled with photographs and paintings, where he usually received his ministers.

The final draft now before him reflected some changes suggested by a Tsarist committee and was less liberal than the original plan. But it still called for the creation of several commissions--preparatory ones and a general commission--which would make legislative recommendations in the areas of finance and administration to the Tsar's advisory State Council. It also stipulated that some of the delegates to the general commission would be elected, as would fifteen others who would sit with the State Council to consider the recommendations. All of this, of course, was merely advisory to the Tsar, and the work of the commissions was to be strictly circumscribed. Yet, after giving the document his approval and upon Loris-Melikov's departure, Alexander turned to one of his sons, the Grand Duke Vladimir, and said that he agreed to approve the proposal, knowing that he was "going along the road toward a constitution."1 This, however, was probably a statement of apprehension, and not one of commitment to continue walking down such a path. He still apparently believed that any constitution limiting his powers would harm his country, but he seemed less able than ever to steer Russia in the direction he wished, one in which a loyal and loving people would willingly follow their benevolent Tsar.

Alexander told one of his other ministers to schedule a meeting of his Council of Ministers for the following Wednesday. He wished his ministers to have a final look at the document before it was promulgated.

As he often did on Sunday afternoons, Alexander planned to ride to the nearby Manegè to observe some of his troops on parade. At least there, where he knew the names of many of his elite guards officers and felt at home with them, he could still feel like a proper benevolent, fatherly, and beloved Tsar.  Reviewing his troops, listening to "God Save the Tsar," witnessing the outstanding horsemanship of  Cossack riders, and chatting with his officers probably helped dispel, at least momentarily, doubts about the reality of any mutual affection between him and his subjects.  But before Alexander left the Winter Palace that day, according to Katia's later testimony, his passions got the best of him, and on a couch in one of the rooms set up for his young family near his study, he and Katia made love.

A little before 1:00 p.m. he set off for the Manège. As usual, he was in military uniform, topped of by a dark blue cloak and a white plumed helmet. It was a cold, dreary, sunless day. As his closed carriage moved along the roads, escorted by six mounted Cossacks, he could see dirty snow piled upon the sides of the streets. His carriage was a present from Napoleon III and was supposed to be bomb-proof. As an additional precautionary measure, he had agreed to avoid going down the crowded Nevsky Prospect and past the suspicious cheese shop.

Meanwhile, Sophia Perovskaya and her friends had continued their preparations. By the time Alexander left the palace, some were in the cheese shop waiting for him, and Sophia and her bomb throwers were dispersed near the end of the expected rout to the Manège. When Sophia realized that Alexander had not come along the usual route, she moved closer to the Manège and waited for the review to end. When she saw him leave, she realized that his return route again would not lead him past the cheese shop nor her bomb squad. By a prearranged sign (blowing her nose), she signaled the bomb throwers to take up their secondary positions along the Catherine Canal, the other most likely way for him to return.

Alexander decided to stop on the way and visit a cousin, Grand Duchess Catherine, who resided nearby at the Mikhailovsky Palace. This gave Sophia and her men more time to take up their places. When he came out of this palace a short time later, three of the bomb throwers were waiting along the canal, each with a five pound package. The fourth man had changed his mind and left the scene. On the other side of the canal Sophia watched as the Tsar's carriage, accompanied by mounted Cossacks, approached the Catherine Quay. As it did, she again gave a signal.

Alexander's carriage, also followed by several police sleighs, had gone only about 100-150 yards down the quay, when a heavyset youth in a fur cap stepped forward and threw his bomb. A loud explosion followed. Amidst bluish smoke it was possible to see that the Tsar's carriage had been hit, as well as a Cossack guard and a small boy, both of whom were lying on the ground and would soon die. But Alexander was able to get out of his carriage and appeared not to be seriously hurt. Against the advice of his security guard, he took time to assess the situation, rather than leaving immediately for the Winter Palace. He could be stubbornly courageous at times. He went up to question the heavyset youth now being held along the quay railing by the police and soldiers.

While Alexander was still assessing the confusing scene, a second young man approached him with a package in his hand. When the youth was within a few paces of the Tsar, he hurled it at his feet. Again a loud explosion and smoke, but this time amidst the snow and blood Alexander lay wounded with his legs ripped apart and bleeding profusely. (A church, that of the Resurrection of the Savior on the Blood, was subsequently built on this spot.) He feebly called for help and was placed in one of the gendarme sleighs. As it rushed to the Winter Palace, it left a trial of blood in the snow.

Upon reaching the palace, the Tsar was taken to his study and his still bloody but breathing body was placed on a cot. The room was soon crowded with his two families and several doctors, including Dr. Botkin. Outside in the Palace Square a large crowd gathered, some on their knees in the snow in prayer. Inside there was little anyone could do but try to comfort Alexander and ease his pain. A sobbing Katia and the giant Tsarevich held the head of the Tsar. The Tsarevich ordered a priest to be brought in. One soon appeared and gave Alexander communion. Everyone else knelt down. A few minutes later, at about 3:30 p.m. on this first day of March, Alexander died.

After observing the explosions from the other side of the canal, Sophia Perovskaya walked away to keep a rendezvous with a couple of her fellow revolutionaries in a cafe. The third bomb carrier was also able to walk away undetected. The second, who was of Polish background, was fatally wounded in his successful attempt against the Tsar and died that same evening. The first, a nineteen-year-old youth by the name of Rysakov, soon confessed and implicated others.

The day of the assassination, however, was a happy one for some of the revolutionaries. Vera Figner believed that it was a day of recompense for all the suffering and death inflicted upon the revolutionary movement. She thought that "the dawn of the New Russia was at hand."2 Another member of the executive committee began working on a letter to send to the new Tsar, Alexander III. It would tell him that there were two choices: either he could call a constituent assembly and grant amnesties for political crimes or the revolutionaries would continue their activities.

Although Sophia also hoped for better days, her main preoccupation now shifted to trying to free Zhelyabov. She was afraid he would be implicated in the assassination. Her fears were soon realized when within a few days she learned that he had willingly confessed his own guilt. She continued trying to persuade others to help her organize an escape attempt for him, but they realized it was nearly impossible.

Her friends became concerned for her. Almost always in the past, she had been self-controlled and a tower of strength. Now she seemed distraught, pale, and exhausted. They tried to talk her into leaving the city, perhaps into escaping abroad, but she refused.

Meanwhile, the police net spread and arrests escalated. Rumors and fears gripped the city, now draped in mournful black. Police and mounted Cossacks could be seen everywhere. Sophia's picture was available to the police, and they knew that she was the woman who lived with Zhelyabov. A woman from a dairy store where Sophia had regularly bought milk was asked to accompany a detective, and they searched for her. On March 10th, they happened to see her in a horse cab on the Nevsky Prospect. They chased after it and caught her. After being interrogated, she was locked up in a room in the same gendarme prison, behind the Summer Garden, where she had been incarcerated seven years before.
 
 

36

THE TRIAL

On the next evening after her arrest, Sophia Perovskaya was led out of the three-story gendarme building and taken to the Peter and Paul Fortress. Four days earlier, after still another long procession across the wind-blown Neva, her victim, Alexander II, had been buried in the fortress's cathedral. A gendarme led Sophia into a vaulted, half-dark room, where a gendarme colonel sat behind a large table covered with a green cloth. (See this link for a photo of a gendarme officer several decades later.) There waiting to identify her was the heavyset bomb-thrower Rysakov, now clad in prison garb.

At the time of her daughter's arrest, Sophia's mother was in the Crimea at the little house where Sophia had recovered after her first prison term. Four days after Sophia's arrest, a gendarme captain arrived and took away her brother Vasily, and told her mother and brothers that Sophia had been arrested. That same evening Sophia's mother and oldest brother, Nicholas, left for St. Petersburg.

Not long after arriving in the capital, Mrs. Perovskaya went to the office of the Minister of Internal Affairs, Loris-Melikov. His preoccupation these days was with security, that of the new Tsar in particular. He and others were still fearful that the People's Will might try to strike again. The reform proposal which Alexander II had approved the day of his death was for the present in abeyance.

Loris-Melikov agreed to see Sophia's mother. There was something he wished to tell her. After inviting her into his office and offering her a chair, he told her that it was the new Tsar's desire that she persuade her daughter to disclose the names of all her fellow conspirators. Mrs. Perovskaya informed him, however, that Sophia had a strong, independent mind and that she would do only what her own convictions dictated. No one could persuade her to do otherwise.

Despite this rebuff, Loris-Melikov allowed Sophia's mother to see her. Several days after her interview with the minister, Sophia's mother was led into a room in the gendarme building. Her daughter had been returned here after her brief visit to the Peter and Paul Fortress. When Sophia entered the room and saw her mother, she rushed to her and began kissing her. They sat down on a couple of chairs in the middle of a room. A gendarme officer and an investigator also sat there listening to their conversation. Sophia asked her mother's forgiveness, but told her she could not have done otherwise and that she would meet death with happiness. She only feared that she might be treated differently than her co-conspirators.

On March 20th, a man by the name of Nicholas Kibalchich was put in the prison room beside Sophia. He was the technical expert responsible for making the bombs which Sophia's bomb throwers had used. While incarcerated, he worked on some ideas he had about jet propulsion. Kibalchich's arrest completed for the time being the authorities' apprehension of those involved in the assassination of Alexander II. The government now decided to put six of them on trial before the end of the month. In addition to Kibalchich, Sophia, and Zhelyabov, who was being held at the Peter and Paul Fortress, the other three defendants were to be Rysakov, Mikhailov (the would-be bomb thrower who had changed his mind) and Gesya Helfman, a Jewish woman in her mid-twenties who had maintained one of the apartments for the bomb throwers. As Sophia sat in her prison room, with its walls of yellow ocher and with a sentry always present, she had much time to think. Some of her thoughts of that time are expressed in a letter she wrote to her mother two days after Kibalchich was brought into the room next to her. Here is the letter:
 

My dear, adored Mama,--The thought of you oppresses and torments me always. My darling, I implore you to be calm, and not to grieve for me; for my fate does not afflict me in the least, and I shall meet it with complete tranquility, for I have long expected it, and known that sooner or later it must come. And I assure you, dear mama, that my fate is not such a very mournful one. I have lived as my convictions dictated, and it would have been impossible for me to have acted otherwise. I await my fate, therefore, with a tranquil conscience, whatever it may be. The only thing which oppresses me is the thought of your grief, oh, my adored mother! It is that which rends my heart; and what would I not give to be able to alleviate it? My dear, dear mother, remember that you still have a large family, so many grown-up, and so many little ones, all of whom have need of you, have need of your great moral strength. The thought that I have been unable to raise myself to your moral height has always grieved me to the heart. Whenever, however, I felt myself wavering, it was always the thought of you which sustained me. I will not speak to you of my devotion to you; you know that from my infancy you were always the object of my deepest and fondest love. Anxiety for you was the greatest of my sufferings. I hope that you will be calm, that you will pardon me the grief I have caused you, and not blame me too much; your reproof is the only one that would grieve my heart.

In fancy I kiss your hands again and again, and on my knees I implore you not to be angry with me.

Remember me most affectionately to all my relatives.

And I have a little commission for you, my dear mama. Buy me some cuffs and collars; the collars rather narrow, and the cuffs with buttons, for studs are not allowed to be worn here. Before appearing at the trial, I must mend my dress a little, for it has become much worn here. Good-bye till we meet again, my dear mother. Once more, I implore you not to grieve, and not to afflict yourself for me. My fate is not such a sad one after all, and you must not grieve about it.1


Two days after writing the letter, Sophia, Kibalchich, and Rysakov, who had also been moved to the gendarme prison, were transferred to the House of Preventive Detention. This recently built prison was attached by long corridors to the court where they would be tried. It was to be the same court building on the Liteiny Prospect, near the Neva river, where Vera Zasulich had been tried and acquitted. Although the new prison was clean and considered by the government as something of a showpiece, in both the men's and women's sections the cells were small (10 ft. x 5 ft.) and the ventilation exceedingly poor. Here Sophia was allowed one more brief visit from her mother; her father did not wish to see her.


The trial opened on Thursday, March 26th, at 11:00 a.m. Police and gendarmes surrounded the court building, allowing only those with tickets to enter. The proceedings were held in a square, white-walled room. Spread out over the front of it was a panel of government-appointed officials who would act as both judges and jury. All but a few of them were from the Russian Senate, a weak bureaucratic institution that also acted as a court of final appeal. These judges sat behind a long red-clothed table and in high-backed chairs. On their left, as the judges looked out on the courtroom, the six accused sat, the four men in black suits, the two women in black dresses. Sophia was placed next to Zhelyabov, who sat last in the line, furthest from the judges. In front of the six sat their court appointed lawyers, except for Zhelyabov, who chose to defend himself. In the corner of the room between the defendants and their judges hung, draped in black, a life-sized picture of Alexander II. He seemed to be looking out at his accused murderers. In front of the judges was a table containing exhibits for the prosecution, including boxes of dynamite. Behind the table, facing the judges, were the distinguished guests, mainly government officials but also some ladies of society. Representatives of the foreign and Russian press were also on hand. But the accounts of the trial, especially to the Russian public, were subject to strict censorship.

To the right of the judges sat the man who would prosecute the government case. He seemed rather young for such an important task. He was only the same age as Zhelyabov. But his superiors thought him a talented man and he had risen quickly within the government's judicial system. He was especially known for his oratorical skills. The fact that he was always most eager to please his superiors and that he was one of the famous Muraviev clan also undoubtedly helped his career. He was the nephew of the famous Muraviev-Amursky and the son of a former governor of Pskov. He was Nicholas Muraviev, the same Kolya with whom Sophia and her brothers and sisters used to play when their father was vice-governor of Pskov, the same Kolya whom they had once pulled out of the water onto a raft. Muravievs and Perovskys had once served one another and helped each other's careers. Now a Muraviev was going to prosecute one of the Perovsky clan for murder. Like Nekrasov's nemesis, Michael Muraviev, "the Hangman," and unlike some of the Decembrist Muravievs, Nicholas Muraviev intended to be one of those Muravievs who did the hanging, not one who got hanged.

On the first day of the trial each of the defendants was asked some basic questions about himself or herself. Sophia answered briefly and stated that her occupation was revolutionary affairs. The tall, bearded, angry-looking Zhelyabov answered at greater length. When asked his religion, he stated that although he no longer considered himself a member of the Orthodox Church, he based his moral convictions on the teachings of Christ and believed it the duty of Christians to fight and, if need be, suffer for the weak and oppressed.

Later on, after the charges were read, each of the accused was allowed to plead and make a statement. Rysakov tried to mitigate his own guilt. The young Mikhailov, a worker of peasant background, rejected some of Rysakov's allegations upon which a good part of the government's case was built. He admitted only to being a member of a party which tried to help the workers. Helfman, who had fled her Orthodox Jewish home as a teenager in order to avoid an arranged marriage, admitted belonging to the People's Will, but not to taking part in the assassination. Kibalchich, while not denying his guilt, vigorously explained that as the maker of the bombs his role was limited to the technical sphere. Sophia then stood up and admitted taking part in both the Moscow attempt and the successful assassination of March 1st. She spoke of her faith in the eventual triumph of the views of the People's Will. Like Helfman had also done, she stated that Mikhailov was not involved in the plot against the Tsar. Sophia also said that Helfman had not taken any part in the terroristic activities of their party.

A number of Tsarist officials present that day noted that Sophia looked like a young girl and that there seemed to be a discrepancy between her terroristic acts and her rather modest demeanor. Zhelyabov, who spoke after Sophia and admitted his involvement, also created a strong impression on observers of the trial. He was the most forceful speaker of the six, often objected to rulings of the judges, and was frequently interrupted by the chief judge when he attempted to introduce material that the court considered irrelevant.

As the trial continued and the witnesses for the prosecution testified, Zhelyabov objected to various points of their testimony. One of his concerns was to prevent the state from proving the guilt of Helfman and Mikhailov. Kibalchich objected whenever he thought the government witnesses misspoke about his explosives or their intended effects. As in the nearby cells, the ventilation in the courtroom was poor. The court met each day in the late morning and early afternoon and then again in the evening. As the hour got late and the room more stuffy, the number of observers dwindled.

On Saturday, the third day of the trial, Muraviev summed up the government's case. It took him five hours to do so. The sober, intelligent War Minister, Milyutin, although not able to remain for all of the speech, considered it magnificent, and Muraviev a "talented young man, an orator in the full sense of the word."2

With all of the gestures and modulations of voice and emotion of an accomplished orator, Muraviev pictured a saintly, heroic Tsar, struck down by beastly assassins. At one point he said: "Thus he fell, a warrior at his imperial post of danger, fell in the battle for God, for Russia...in mortal combat with the enemies of justice, of order, of morality, of family life."3

In the course of his speech, Muraviev mentioned Sophia's family background and connections and noted that, despite all of her advantages, she had gone wrong. In a way that surely must have offended her feminist sensibilities, he indicated that the People's Will could not have been a very strong organization if after Zhelyabov's arrest it had to turn over to a weak woman the tasks of organizing the assassination. Could it not find, he asked, "a stronger hand, a stronger mind, a more experienced revolutionary than Sophia Perovskaya?"4 Muraviev also pointed out that it was especially horrible for a woman to be acting in such a beastly role.

After the completion of Muraviev's long speech, the counsels for the first five defendants spoke. Sophia's counsel, while admitting she had gone astray, spoke of her noble character and asked the court to show mercy towards her. Zhelyabov, speaking in his own behalf, was constantly interrupted by the chief judge for exceeding the limits set down by the court. The court did not intend to allow Zhelyabov the use of the courtroom as a forum to proclaim his many grievances against the Russian government.

After the five lawyers and Zhelyabov spoke, each of the six accused was allowed a few words before the court decided its verdict. Kibalchich used the occasion to announce that he had drawn up designs for a "flying machine" and that he was bequeathing them to his counsel. Sophia objected to Muraviev's charges that the six were immoral and brutal, and she added that anyone who really knew their lives and circumstances would not accuse them of either failing.

Sophia, of course, was speaking to judges beyond those in the courtroom: she was appealing to the world outside, and to posterity. While Muraviev depicted the Tsar as saintly and heroic; many on the Left thought that those like Perovskaya were the true heroes, the true saints.

At midnight the judges left to consider their verdicts. The accused were also led out. Several hours later the court reconvened and the chief judge read out the verdicts regarding each of the six. All were found guilty. Muraviev demanded the death penalty for them. The judges again retired to consider the sentence.

The darkness outside was already beginning to pale when the court once again reconvened and the exhausted prisoners and audience heard the sentences. On this early Sunday morning, all six were sentenced to be hanged. They had until 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday to appeal. Since Sophia was of the noble class, the court noted that her sentence would be carried out only after being approved by the Tsar.

37

TWO APPEALS

On the same Sunday when many in the capital discovered the court's verdict and sentence, they also heard rumors about a provocative speech given the night before which dared to recommend mercy for the assassins. The speaker was Vladimir Soloviev. In a large hall of the capital's Credit Society, before some 800 people, he had given a lecture entitled "A Critique of Contemporary Education and the Crisis in the World Process." Among the audience were many students and sitting in the front were Sophia Tolstaya and her niece, Sophia Khitrovo, with whom Soloviev was still in love.

Since the previous fall, Soloviev had been lecturing as a private docent at both St. Petersburg University and the Higher Courses for Women, established in the capital in 1878--women were not permitted to enroll in the universities. His reputation among the students seemed to increase with each lecture. He welcomed their questions and objections, and especially enjoyed answering the students who were sympathetic with the revolutionary left. In a lecture at the Higher Courses for Women following the arrest of Sophia Perovskaya, Soloviev had publicly stated that the path of revolutionary violence was the wrong way, that it was impossible to bring about truth and justice by force, that it would only lead to despotism.

On the Thursday when the trial of the assassins began, he gave the first of two speeches at the Credit Society lecture hall. But compared to the one he gave two nights later, the first one did not cause much controversy.  Both of these speeches, however, were influenced by an address which the Slavophile Ivan Aksakov had given the previous Sunday to a meeting of the St. Petersburg Slavonic Benevolent Committee. In it, Aksakov stated that the assassins were just the logical, extreme manifestation of the liberal, westernizing spirit in Russia. Thus, not only would he be willing to blame radicals such as Herzen, Bakunin, and Nechaev for giving birth to those such as Zhelyabov and Perovskaya; but he also would gladly point the finger of blame at liberals such as Turgenev. Dostoevsky, Katkov, and Pobedonostsev had earlier expressed similar viewpoints. Aksakov stated that it was not the renegade intellectuals who captured the true spirit of Russia, but the peasants and their highest representative, the Tsar.

Although Soloviev had never been as ardent a glorifier of the Russian peasants as were his friends Dostoevsky and Aksakov, in his speeches at the Credit Society building he seemed to attribute to the Russian people his own beliefs: faith in the truth of Jesus Christ and belief in the essential oneness of the universe (his Holy Sophia) and in the possibility of realizing Christ's truth on this earth. In his second speech on Saturday night he agreed with Aksakov that the Tsar was the highest representative of the people. But here his speech took an unexpected turn. He dared to advise the new Tsar on his treatment of his father's assassins.

In a clear distinct voice, the bearded Soloviev stood in front of his audience and stated that the use of capital punishment was wrong and unchristian. He did not rule out the use of violence in self-defense, but the regicides on trial were now unarmed and could be separated from society without executing them. (See this link for a photo of Soloviev, apparently from the early 1880s.) Therefore, if the Tsar was to be the true representative and embodiment of the Christian spirit of the Russian people, he must not sanction the killing of his father's assassins. While admitting that it was not up to himself or his audience to decide the matter or to pass judgment on the Tsar, he nevertheless insisted that the Christian path and that of the Russian people was to follow that of the "God of Love," and not the pagan way of retaliation or vengeance. (See this link for an article on Soloviev's speech and his subsequent ideas for the next two decades until his death in 1900.)

Eye witness accounts disagree on exactly what happened at the end of Soloviev's speech. But the consensus indicates that it awakened strong and opposing emotions among the audience. Words such as "traitor," "scoundrel," and "terrorist" apparently were hurled at Soloviev, but so were shouts of approval, especially from many of the young, both male and female. Dostoevsky's widow, Anna, was apparently among those present who were critical of the speech. This was despite the fact that after the execution of Kvyatkovsky and Presnyakov in November 1880, Dostoevsky in his notebook had suggested an approach to capital punishment similar to that now taken by Soloviev.

Important government officials were less divided than the audience over the merits of Soloviev's speech. Even the liberal Milyutin thought that Soloviev's advice to the Tsar was an act of folly. The day after the speech, Soloviev was sent for by the governor of the city, Major-General Baranov, who had recently been appointed thanks to the influence of Dostoevsky's old friend Pobedonostsev. Baranov at this time was a frantic man who was discovering plots and revolutionary activities where they did not exist.

Soloviev was allowed to explain in writing his version of the previous evening's lecture. In this explanation, he indicated that in suggesting the pardoning of the assassins he was only following up on one of the Tsar's own statements that he stood on the Christian principle of mercy. Not knowing exactly what reports had reached Baranov, Soloviev indicated that it was possible that some people had misinterpreted his remarks. Yet he admitted to saying that "Capital punishment in general...is an unforgivable act and in a Christian state must be abolished."1

That same day Soloviev decided to write directly to the new Tsar, whom his father had once tutored. He confessed to having expressed his belief that only Christ's truth could triumph over the forces of evil and that the present moment presented an unprecedented opportunity for the Tsar to perform a great moral deed by pardoning the assassins. Such an act, the philosopher stated, could only strengthen the foundations of the Tsar's power and bring him closer to the Russian people--both of which would have pleased Soloviev, providing that the Tsar acted in a fashion in keeping with true Christian principles.

General Baranov made a report about Soloviev's speech to Loris-Melikov, who in turn reported to the Tsar. Another minister who heard about the lecture was the dour, ascetic, constantly black-suited Pobedonostsev, who as Procurator of the Holy Synod was in charge of the Orthodox Church in Russia.

Since his former pupil had become Tsar, Pobedonostsev's power and influence had increased significantly. In addition to Baranov's appointment, he also managed to influence the Tsar to name Ignatiev, the former ambassador to Constantinople, to a government post. Pobedonostsev had hoped that Ignatiev might replace Loris-Melikov as Minister of Interior. The new Tsar, however, had not yet completely made up his mind about the Armenian general and the reform project which Alexander II had approved the morning before his death. Therefore, for the present, Ignatiev had to settle for the position of Minister of State Properties. Nevertheless, Loris-Melikov and his liberal supporters, such as Milyutin and Finance Minister Abaza, were now definitely losing influence at court to Pobedonostsev's faction.

To Milyutin the thought of Pobedonostsev gaining more influence was abhorrent. At a meeting in early March, Pobedonostsev severely criticized Loris-Melikov's projected reform plan. In that speech according to Milyutin, Pobedonostsev "dared to call the Great Reforms of Emperor Alexander II a criminal mistake."2 Milyutin noted further in his diary that he and some others were not able to conceal their annoyance at some of the phrases of this "fanatic-reactionary."3

Shortly before hearing about Soloviev's lecture, Pobedonostsev had been asked to transmit the letter of still another individual who wished the Tsar to pardon the assassins. It was written by Leo Tolstoy. (See this link for an 1884 painting of Tolstoy.)

That March, Tolstoy was in the midst of translating and unifying the four Gospels into one chronological account. He had by now concluded that one of the most important messages of the Gospels was: " Resist not him that is evil." The previous month Soloviev and their mutual friend Strakhov had come to visit him. The three of them had discussed much, and Tolstoy and Soloviev differed on a number of points. Soloviev defended, for example, the doctrine of the Trinity. One of the other guests at Yasnaya Polyana thought that the young philosopher bested Tolstoy in their debates, but did it in a humble manner. Nevertheless, Tolstoy treated him kindly, and believed that in general they concurred upon moral questions. One of the matters that they apparently agreed on was the evil of capital punishment.

Judging from the rough draft of Tolstoy's letter to Alexander III--and that is all that is available--he started out by explaining why an "insignificant" man like himself would dare to advise the Tsar. As the rest of the letter made clear, he did it as a matter of conscience and because he believed that Russia stood at a crucial juncture in its history. One of three roads stood before it. Two had already been tried, that of repression and that of liberal concessions. Neither, according to Tolstoy, had worked or would in the future. So why not try "another remedy," an untried but at least not a failed one. Tolstoy quoted his remedy from the Gospels: "Love your enemies....Resist not evil." He boldly stated: "This and only this needs to be done; this is the will of God."4

Like Soloviev in his letter to the Tsar, Tolstoy tried to convince Alexander III that by pardoning his father's assassins he could only strengthen his authority. He wrote "Your majesty, if you should do this...give them [the assassins] money and send them away somewhere to America, and write a manifesto starting with the words: 'but I say to you, love your enemies,'....from these words, like a flood, goodness and love would pour forth over Russia."5

Anticipating objections that his "remedy" would only make matters worse, Tolstoy stated that there was no proof that it would not work. He believed that the revolutionary ferment resulted from the revolutionaries' dissatisfaction with the existing order and their desire to replace it with one based more on the general welfare and on equality and freedom. Repression could not stamp out the radical's activities. In his rough draft, he closed his letter by writing:
 

There is only one ideal that can be opposed to them. And that is the one which they began with, not understanding it and blaspheming against it--the one which includes their ideal, the ideal of love, forgiveness, and the repayment of good for evil. Only a single word of forgiveness and Christian love, spoken and carried out from the height of the throne, and the path of a Christian reign, which stands before you to embark upon, can destroy the evil which is eating away Russia.

Like wax before the face of fire, every revolutionary struggle will melt away before the Tsar-man who carries out the law of Christ."6


Tolstoy sent his letter to his friend Strakhov and asked him to transmit it to Pobedonostsev, who could then see that it, or at least its thoughts, reached the new Tsar. Tolstoy's wife, Sonia, was upset with him for writing such a letter; his religious transformation was introducing new strains in their relationship. She attributed the letter partly to the influence of the children's tutor and former radical Alekseev. In a postscript to her husband's letter to Strakhov, she asked him to consult with Pobedonostsev and not to send the letter on if they thought it would anger Alexander III. This, of course, was contrary to Tolstoy's intentions. He was willing to face any consequences.


It was apparently just a day or so before hearing about Soloviev's lecture that Pobedonostsev met with Strakhov. The Procurator of the Holy Synod stated that he had a different view of the meaning of Christianity than did Tolstoy, and in good conscience he could not transmit the letter to the new Tsar.

After Soloviev's lecture, Pobedonostsev realized that Alexander III would probably hear of one or both of the appeals made to him. And indeed Tolstoy did find another way to transmit his letter to the Tsar. Therefore, two days after Soloviev's lecture and the day after the court's sentencing, Pobedonostsev wrote a letter of his own to his former pupil. In it he wrote of "perverted ideas" being enunciated by some possessing "weak minds and hearts" who wished the Tsar to pardon the assassins. To such appeals he told the Tsar that his own response was: "No, no, a thousand times no."7 The revolutionaries' bloody deed called for vengeance, and the opinion of the Russian people was the same. If any of the assassins escaped death, Pobedonostsev wrote that they would just invent new plots against the government.

It was not until a few months later that Tolstoy himself received an explanation from Pobedonostsev, who then wrote to him: "Your faith is one thing, and mine and the church's another....Our Christ is not your Christ. Ours I know as a man of strength and truth...but yours appears to me to possess traits of weakness."8 This letter reminds one of the words of Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor to Christ in The Brothers Karamazov, and the Grand Inquisitor does indeed bear some resemblance to Dostoevsky's reactionary friend.

By the time Pobedonostsev wrote his letter, Alexander III had retreated to the palace at Gatchina, almost thirty miles from the capital. Still fearful of plots by the People's Will, whose remaining strength was not known, he was surrounded there by sentries and guards on horses, as well as by plain-clothed police. The powerful six-foot-three-inch Alexander was not a coward, but some of his advisers and prudence suggested such elaborate measures.

Was there really any reason for Pobedonostsev to fear an imperial pardon? Perhaps he thought one or both of the women might be spared, for females had not previously been executed in Russia for political crimes. Otherwise, everything we know of Alexander III's personality would seem to indicate that Pobedonostsev's fear reflected more his own horror at such a pardon than it did any substantial doubts about Alexander III's potential behavior. Alexander III was an obstinate, straightforward, conservative man, not given to self-doubting. Some of his defenders would claim he was a man of common sense, but no one thought of him as especially intelligent or cultured. Growing up in Russia's Golden Age of Literature he had never even heard of Bazarov, Turgenev's famous hero of Fathers and Sons, and he did not like Tolstoy's works. In general, he seems to have read little. As compared to his father, he was more willful, nationalistic, and distrustful of the West and less cosmopolitan or comfortable among foreigners.  These traits were clearly apparent during his years as Tsarevich. His view of Christianity was basically that of Pobedonostsev, more inclined to stress duty and obedience than love, the only discernible difference being that the Tsar's beliefs were ingested almost unconsciously, with little mental effort.

Upon receiving Pobedonostsev's note, Alexander wrote on it: "Don't worry, no one will dare come to me with such proposals, and all six will be hanged, that I guarantee."9
 
 

38

A SPECTACLE ON SEMENOVSKY SQUARE

Despite the intentions of Alexander III, his "guarantee" to Pobedonostsev was not fully carried out. Even the "Autocrat of all the Russias" could not completely control unforeseen circumstances. One such circumstance was the discovery that one of the two females sentenced to death was pregnant. As a result, Gesya Helfman's sentence was changed to life imprisonment. "All six" would therefore, not be hanged. And how about the other five? Mikhailov and Rysakov petitioned the Tsar for a reprieve, the other three did not. The Tsar turned down the two petitioning prisoners. But even then no one could be absolutely sure what would occur. Had not the famous Dostoevsky thought that he was going to be executed until almost at the very last moment, with the firing squad already in place, a reprieve was announced?

The executions were scheduled for Friday, April 3rd. On Thursday, Rysakov wrote still one more letter in an attempt to save his life. He offered to help the police catch some of the revolutionaries still not apprehended. Once again, he was turned down. That same evening, Rysakov and Mikhailov each confessed their sins to a priest. Kibalchich went as far as talking to one; but Sophia and Zhelyabov each refused the opportunity. The prisoners were allowed no other visitors. Sophia lay down that Thursday night at 11:00 in her cell in the House of Preventive Detention, but she was not alone. Night and day, a gendarme officer and a gendarme soldier were present. Ironically enough, the government did not want her taking her own life. The same precaution was taken with the others.

The next morning the five were given tea shortly after 6:00 a.m. After putting on the black clothes presented to them, they came out into the prison courtyard. Sophia was pale and seemed to stagger. The big, friendly Mikhailov encouraged her to pull herself together, and she seemed to do so. The five prisoners were then placed on platforms high atop two carts. Sophia sat on the second, between Mikhailov and the bearded Kibalchich. All five were in shackles and wore large placards around their necks with the word "Tsaricide" on each.

Just before 8:00 a.m. the prison gate opened. First came a cart carrying soldiers and police, then the two holding the prisoners. Five priests in carriages, a cart of coffins, and additional soldiers followed behind. Military drummers accompanied this slow-moving procession, furnishing a muffled and somber tapping, designed to prevent any of the prisoners from addressing the large crowds lining the streets. Sophia and the others were shackled with their backs to the horses that pulled their springless carts slowly over the cobblestoned and potholed streets: Shpalernaya, Liteiny, Kirovhnaya, Nadezhdinskaya, and then across the Nevsky Prospect and down the long Nikolaevsky to Semenovsky Square. There a crowd of close to 100,000 people awaited them, as did a gallows. More than three decades before it had been a firing squad that awaited Dostoevsky on this same large unpaved square.

On a low platform in front of the gallows were gathered various dignitaries, including Procurator Muraviev, foreign diplomats, and representatives of the press. Some privileged people had managed to obtain tickets which permitted them to come up on the scaffold once the bodies had been removed. This would enable them, if they wished, to take away pieces of the hanging ropes--considered good luck souvenirs.

Most of the large crowd stood behind thousands of foot soldiers and mounted Cossacks lined up to maintain order. Some people watched from nearby roofs. For a St. Petersburg morning in early spring, the weather was good: not too cold and some sunshine, which before the day was over would melt some more of the snow on the square.

After the prisoners ascended the black painted scaffold, they were chained to posts or to a railing on the platform while their sentences were read out. Zhelyabov was able to say a few words to Sophia. Both of them looked composed, as did Mikhailov and Kibalchich. Only Rysakov seemed agitated. A London Times reporter noticed that Perovskaya seemed the calmest of all, and he even noticed a slight pinkish glow on her cheeks.

Five priests then climbed up the stairs of the scaffold and held out crosses for the condemned to kiss. Each of them did so. Even Zhelyabov had stated at his trial that he considered himself a follower of the true teachings of Christ. The priests blessed the prisoners and walked off the platform. Before being placed under their nooses, Zhelyabov kissed Sophia, as did Kibalchich and Mikhailov; but she, uncompromising to the end, turned away when the informer Rysakov approached her.

The hangman, dressed in a red shirt, and his assistants then placed white hoods over the prisoners' heads. The drums continued to beat. Kibalchich was helped up on to a little stand, the rope affixed to his neck, and the stand removed. Next it was Mikhailov's turn. The same procedure was followed, but after hanging for almost a minute, Mikhailov's big body hit the scaffold floor. The crowd screamed. The noose had come undone. He was helped back up, but after hanging another minute and a half, the same thing happened again. On the third try, after a further last minute adjustment prevented still another failed attempt, he was finally successfully hanged. A similar bungled hanging had taken place more than fifty years earlier with several of the Decembrists, but at least that hanging was not before a mass audience.

While poor Mikhailov was being hanged three times, Sophia stood next in line, dwarfed between him and Zhelyabov. One can only imagine what she was thinking. Several minutes later, however, her petite body hung limp from a noose. Her body had quivered only briefly. By 10:00 a.m. all five bodies were in their coffins, and most of the crowd had begun to leave the square. 



 

Epilogue


The bloody struggle between revolutionaries and the government did not end with the deaths of Sophia Perovskaya and her four companions. During Alexander III's reign (1881-1894), however, the Tsar seemed to have the upper hand. His increasingly reactionary policies temporarily stifled the radicals, and the spirit of Pobedonostsev seemed triumphant. He continued to be an important minister for the next quarter century. (See this link for excerpts from his Reflections of A Russian Statesman.)  By the time he was replaced as Procurator of the Holy Synod in 1905, Nicholas II was Tsar. As a twelve-year-old boy, he had witnessed the painful death of Alexander II, his grandfather. The scene left a lasting impression on him, and he became as reactionary as his father, although not as strong-willed.

Crippled but not crushed, the radical spirit survived. In 1887, Alexander Ulyanov was executed for plotting against the Tsar, but his younger brother, subsequently best known by his revolutionary name of Lenin, came to power thirty years later and inaugurated seven decades of communist rule. Of course, the future of the Russian Empire was determined not just by its rulers, thinkers, and revolutionaries, but by thousands of other causes as well, from the realities of geography to those of international relations.

In 1883, Ivan Turgenev died a painful death from cancer. At his funeral a now moribund People's Will distributed one of his poems mistakenly thought to have been a tribute to Sophia Perovskaya. A voice in the poem referred to its heroine as "Saint."1 At the trial of the assassins, her companion Zhelyabov had declared his commitment to the true teachings of Christ, but prosecutor Muraviev countered that it was the heroic Alexander II who was the true "warrior" for God.

Yet, despite all of the talk of saintly and Christ-like behavior--and all of the variations on this theme from the pens of Dostoevsky, Vladimir Soloviev, Tolstoy, and Pobedonostsev-- Alexander II and other leading personalities of his time displayed their share of common human frailties. This was true in both their actions and socio-political thinking.

Although Alexander II's reforms of the early 1860s were a considerable achievement, after instituting them he failed to display the vision, energy, or leadership which Russia needed to propel it successfully towards the twentieth century. At his death Russian autocracy was still in place, and the economic condition of the great mass of the Russian people, the peasants, was perhaps no better than it had been a few decades earlier. In fact, the rapid growth of the rural population, coupled with low agricultural yields and high taxes and redemption payments, put increasing pressure on the meager resources of most peasants.

Turning to intellectuals such as Dostoevsky, Herzen, and Tolstoy, it cannot be denied that they sometimes expressed important truths about the human condition. And they were not necessarily wrong to argue that Western societies had many failings or that Russia needed to develop along its own unique path. But the intellectuals suffered from serious failings of their own. Two such deficiencies were especially damaging: a dogmatic intolerance of opposing viewpoints and a lack of pragmatism regarding social and political alternatives to the autocratic, patriarchal nature of Russian society.

Of course, these failings were more pronounced in some intellectuals than others. Vladimir Soloviev, for example, was more tolerant than most. Although his friend Dostoevsky sometimes expressed extreme antisemitic views, Soloviev became extremely critical of antisemitism during the 1880s.2 In the early 1890s, he defended the concept of religious tolerance against those who, like Pobedonostsev, equated it with indifference. He argued that it must be allowed since no infallible, universally recognized judge existed who could decide what was true and what was not. Although many other intellectuals might support such a statement when arguing against religious discrimination or government censorship, in their own writings they frequently reflected a dogmatism which helped pollute the air inhaled by extremists such as Nechaev.

Although Soloviev appreciated the importance of tolerance and some of his philosophical thinking helped provide a basis for the further development of liberal ideas, his other-worldly personality reflected the lack of practicality that afflicted so many of the prominent Russian thinkers. After his death in 1900, a friend of his recalled that he had very confused ideas about economics and about the operations of the local government organs (the zemstvos) established by Alexander II.3 Others like Bakunin or Tolstoy--who became more outspokenly utopian from 1881 until his death in 1910--had little comprehension of how real human beings, with all their human failings, might harmoniously live together in society. Toward the end of his life, Herzen warned Bakunin that if the old order were ended by violence, the new order would have to maintained by it. But this practical bit of wisdom had no influence on Bakunin or on those like Perovskaya who believed that a new and better world could be created on soil scattered by the bombs of assassins.

In 1909, seven Russian thinkers published a book called Signposts (Vekhi), which was collection of articles criticizing the revolutionary intelligentsia. Their critique maintained that the intelligentsia had been too dogmatic, rationalistic, intolerant and impractical, placed too much faith in political revolution, and ignored the importance of the inner spiritual transformation of each individual. Several of the contributors were strongly influenced by Vladimir Soloviev's ideas and wished Russia to evolve toward a more just Christian society. The collection also touched on a point brought up by Dostoevsky in his Pushkin speech: the relationship of the intelligentsia to the people and who should learn from whom.4

In the mid and late 1980s, after seven decades of communist rule, Mikhail Gorbachev began a process of change that awakened great hopes, only to be followed by considerable disillusionment. Parallels with Russia under Alexander II were not difficult to identify, and Russia's pre-communist past was once again examined for possible guidance as Russia struggled to create a new political order.

In works of the 1980s and 1990s, the Russian scholar Yuri Lotman maintained that Russian culture predisposed individuals and groups to take absolute positions, favor radical rather than evolutionary approaches, and shun compromise. Not only were these characteristics evident in earlier eras such as that of Alexander II, but Lotman and others continued to believe they were still present in abundance in post-Soviet Russia.5

Not only has the tone of post-Soviet debates sometimes been reminiscent of those of Alexander II's time, but often so too has the contents--for example, the question of Russia's relationship to the West. The differences of Herzen, Dostoevsky, and Turgenev about this question seemed almost as relevant in the 1990s as they did when they first surfaced. Related to  this question are others debated in both periods: liberalism versus socialism; the role of religion in politics, and the relationship of government to society. As Russia continued to search for principles upon which to construct a new political order, the socio-religious ideas of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Vladimir Soloviev, as utopian as they often were, again attracted attention.6  In 1862, Chernyshevsky wrote What Is To Be Done? In 1886, Tolstoy completed What Then Must We Do? In 1902, Lenin's What Is To Be Done? was published. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, with Russia still in the midst of great difficulties, the question was still being asked. 


Go to Endnotes
Return to Home Page
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

.