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.
The definitions and boundary lines between good and evil have disappeared.... disintegration is everywhere, for everything has come apart, and no bonds remain.
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.
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.
Another remedy presents itself....Why not try it?
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
A week before boarding his yacht for the Flushing-Dover crossing, he had
written to Katia from
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
As the white cliffs of
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
At Windsor Castle,
Now, thirty-five years later,
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
There was also the question of
Some Russians such as Ignatiev, still ambassador to
Yet, just the previous year, Alexander had sent to
Perhaps having in mind
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
Alexander remained at
To many, including the critical Dostoevsky, the
Alexander's own economy would not be as seriously affected by the recession
as that of
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
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
On the day after the review at Woolwich, the
Tsar, his daughter Maria, and the Tsarevich attended an Orthodox Church service
DOSTOEVSKY IN BAD
About a month after the Tsar's departure from
It was a beautiful sunny day close to
when Dostoevsky's train pulled in from
Several days after he had arrived, Dostoevsky came across Emperor William,
now, thanks to Chancellor Bismarck, the head of a united and strong
Dostoevsky was undoubtedly among the minority in
For some five weeks Dostoevsky wrote to Anna about life in
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
Like almost everyone taking the cure, Dostoevsky arose at in order to go to one of the springs
in the center of town and line up for his glasses of mineral water. By 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
After having his morning coffee, he often tried to work in his rooms. After
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
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
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
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
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
When it was not raining, and it often was that summer in
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Bervi-Flerovsky's The Situation of the Working Class in Russia (1869)
was based partly on his own experiences in exile in
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
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
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
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
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
She soon settled into quarters in the Vyborg District, north of the
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
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
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
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
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
The activities of the
Sophia was taken that night to a three-story building behind the
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
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,
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
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
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,
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
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
Her parents had separated years earlier, and for a while in the sixties she
had lived with
The following May he again went south to see her, but a strange event
occurred on the train from
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.
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
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
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
At this point in his life he was still trying to integrate his abstract
rational philosophizing with his deeper mystical inclinations. Before leaving
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
It had been a good trip ever since he had avoided seasickness crossing the
Upon arriving he checked into the Hotel Abbat on the
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
During his first week in
Soloviev remained in
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,
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
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
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
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
THE TSAR AT THE FRONT
At the end of June 1877, the Tsar was in
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
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
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
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
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
In the months that followed, Alexander continued to seek a diplomatic
solution that could be imposed upon the Turks. He assured the British
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
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
Meanwhile, the Tsar spent the last days of June and the first part of July
in the hot and dusty little town of
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
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
Two months earlier, Disraeli (now a "swine" according to the Tsar5)
had threatened to go to war if
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
At first the news was good. A week after his arrival, he wrote to Katia that
the initial crossing of the
As the year went on, his letters to Katia reflected the changing fortunes of
the Russian army and his changing locations in
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
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
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
Whether or not God came to
The day after the capture of
Alexander sent Ignatiev to
It was in this picturesque site that the Russians and Turks finally signed a peace
treaty in early March. It created a large autonomous
Russian nationalists and panslavists were in general happy with the treaty.
Some thought, however, that it was the very minimum that
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
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
The Treaty of Berlin
was nevertheless a grave disappointment to many Russian nationalists. The large
When Gorchakov told Alexander
that the Berlin Treaty was "the darkest page in my life," the hapless
Tsar replied, "And in mine too."14
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
Nekrasov also usually took Zina with him when he went to his Karabikha
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
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
At the end of the summer of 1876, Dr. Botkin was going to
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
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
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!
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
Fourteen years earlier in the name of artistic freedom, Kramskoi had led a
protest of fourteen art students against certain restrictions of the
In early April, just eight days before the declaration of war on the
One week later the famous Viennese surgeon Bilroth arrived in
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
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
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
had died in a
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
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
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
one warm, beautiful, bright-as-day
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
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 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 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
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 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
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
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
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
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
In April of 1877, just as
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
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
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
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
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
Two years later, after the detonation of a bomb in the
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
About a month after the death of his son, Dostoevsky left his wife and two
children in Staraya Russa, located in the
He arrived at about 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
He did not sleep well that night. A choking cough tormented him. At about he went to see Katkov at his office on
The Solovievs were staying, as they had in recent summers, at a cottage in
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
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
When Dostoevsky arrived at
On Friday he and Soloviev left by train for the Optina Monastery. They
headed south past
This monastery was one of the most famous in all of
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
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
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
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
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
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
Not far east of Samara was
For the purpose of gathering materials for the novel he made several trips
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
Since Turgenev had last visited him, Tolstoy had enlarged the main house
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
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
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
Later that year Turgenev, who was the best known Russian writer abroad,
received an honorary degree from
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
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
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
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
Turgenev arrived at Yasnaya Polyana on
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
After spending the night in
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,
By the middle of October,
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
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
Soloviev had become friendly with the two women partly as a result of his
friendship with the man who had joined him in
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
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
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
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
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
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
That afternoon there were more ceremonies at
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
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
Two days after his triumphant speech he left
Back in the study of the family's two-story summer home across
the road from the
Dostoevsky's critics insisted that his speech had little practical
usefulness, that it offered no help in confronting
By early autumn, Dostoevsky had completed The Brothers Karamazov and
the family had returned to
Another article dealt with
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 , 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.
A DEATH AND A MARRIAGE
On that May day in 1880 that Dostoevsky left
Staraya Russa for the Pushkin celebration in
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
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
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
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
The Tsar and his ministers now stepped up the pace of repression. Alexander
set up new military governors in the areas of
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
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
Four days after the explosion in the
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
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
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
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.
Shortly after the Tsar's return from the
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
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
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
As the number of assassinations increased in 1878 and 1879, it finally led
to the break up of Land and
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
By the time that Alexander II went to the
From Sophia's return to
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
Early in December, Sophia made her report to the committee and soon
afterwards it decided to rent a shop on
By the end of 1880, Sophia and most of her friends were wanted by the
police. One of the conspirators of the
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
Late in November, Zhelyabov had suggested postponing the assassination of
the Tsar while he and some others went to the
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
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
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.
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
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
Later that evening, after several other trips, she returned to the flat on
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 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
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
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
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
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
At the time of her daughter's arrest, Sophia's mother was in the
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
The trial opened on Thursday, March 26th, at 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
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
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
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 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 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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Despite the intentions of Alexander III, his "guarantee" to
Pobedonostsev was not fully carried out. Even the "Autocrat of all the
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 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 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 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
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
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 all five bodies were in their coffins, and most of the crowd had begun to leave the square.
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
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
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
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
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