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Dead Simonides of Ceos, late restored,
Frail? But fame's breath quickens, kindles, keeps in ward,
Mother's love, and rapture of the sea, whose womb
Poet well-beloved, whose praise our sorrow saith,
Life so sweet as this that dies and casts off death.
Side by side we mourned at Gautier's golden tomb:
Not the night subduing light that perisheth,
Prince of song more sweet than honey, lyric lord,
PERSONAL RECOLLECTIONS OF FOUR RUSSIANS.
BY HON. CHARLES K. TUCKERMAN.
THE death of the Grand Duke Nicolas, brother of the late and uncle of the present Emperor of Russia, together with the fact that his brother, the Grand Duke Constantine, is stricken down with a malady which affords no hope of his recovery, recalls to the public mind two distinguished men whose names are associated with the most prominent political and military events in Russia of recent years. This paper will be confined simply to a few personal reminiscences of these two men, and of two other eminent Russians, the one distinguished by his valor in the field, the other by his diplomatic notoriety.
The elder of the two Grand Dukes, Constantin - Nicolaïévitch, was born in
1827, and is consequently, at the present writing, sixty-four years of age. Chief among his various titles are those of Grand Admiral, Aide - de - Camp General and President of the Imperial Council. In these capacities he has rendered distinguished services to his Government; but his unconcealed sympathies with the Liberal party, and especially with the people of Poland, created, on more than one occasion, a friction between the Grand Duke and his illustrious father. These, and other circumstances more or less known to the public, have rendered his political and private life not altogether a bed of roses.
When I first knew him he was on a visit to his daughter at Athens, Queen
Olga, and the impressions, then and subsequently, which he made upon me were those of a singularly well informed mind, widely awake to the political and social movements of the world at large, and eagerly active in the pursuit of information from all with whom he came in contact. Free from the slightest shadow of hauteur; dignified, yet familiar, with all whom he cared to converse with; inquisitive, at times jocose; full of information, and ready to impart it beyond the verge of strict diplomatic reticence, I always looked forward to a meeting with His Highness, well assured that I should gain something from the interview beyond the empty banalities which generally form the subject of conversation between high personages and their inferiors in position. I also felt, that whether the interview was to be a mere exchange of daily compliments or the expression of views upon current topics, I must keep my wits about me, so sudden and unexpectedly might be the question or the remark to which I was called upon to respond.
As an example of this, His Highness on one occasion abruptly turned from the subject under discussion and asked where a certain vessel of the United States navy was then stationed. I could not at the moment answer the question, but promised to consult the last naval report and let him know. The vessel in question was not in the European squadron, and I had not heard of her movements for a long time. He was greatly surprised at my want of information on the subject, and declared that, with that one exception, he could name the whereabouts of every vessel in the American and European service. I ventured to put his statement to the test; whereupon His Highness called off on his fingers vessel after vessel, their respective sizes, armaments and present stations, until, no longer incredulous, I cried, "enough." He seemed equally conversant with matters totally disconnected with those under his especial charge, and at the mention of a name prominent in diplomacy or in letters would pronounce an acute criticism upon, or give an apt illustration of the individual named, as if he had made his characteristics a profound study.
That a man of such diversified resources could turn with facility from the grave occupations of his official position to the
childish amusements of life, when such diversions were appropriate to the occasion, is not astonishing. I remember at a country picnic given by their Majesties to the members of the Court and diplomatic circle who were passing the summer at the Island of Corfu, the Grand Duke Constantin, leaving his official dignity to take care of itself at St. Petersburg, was the leading spirit in the romping games on that summer afternoon in a lovely and secluded spot a few miles from the town. He had a pleasant word and a quiet little joke for everybody, and when he engaged in a race or paid his penalty in a game of forfeits, one might have supposed him, from his dexterity and agility, to be one of the youngest, instead of one of the oldest of the party. During a pause in the amusements, His Highness proposed to run up to the top of a steep little peak of rock in the vicinity to see the view, and called to the King, and myself who chanced to be near him, to follow. This we did, and in a few minutes we were upon the summit; but, the space being too limited for three to stand at a time, we were obliged to cling to each other to maintain our equilibrium. "Never mind," said the Grand Duke," here we stand, the representatives of three nations, and from this eminence we can defy the world!" Scarcely were the words uttered than we illustrated the fallacy of 'ambition's boast," for the foot of one of the party slipped, and the triple alliance came to an abrupt dissolution, the sauve qui peut movement backward down the declivity being accentuated by the ludicrous attempts of each to save his dignity and his nose from falling on the slippery rock.
His brother, the Grand Duke Nicolas Nicolaïévitch, presented a somewhat different type of character. Without the excitable and nervous temperament of Constantin, genial but grave in his deportment, soldierly in bearing, as befits the position he held, he inspired in his intercourse with others a feeling of deference and dignified regard. Born in 1831, he was four years the junior of his brother. His principal titles were General of Engineers, Aide-de-Camp, Inspector General of the Army, and President of the Comité Suprême d'Organisation. Of late years. his name has come prominently forward as Commander-in-Chief during the RussoTurkish war.
It was at Constantinople in 1878 that, being engaged in the prosecution of an important matter of business with the Ottoman Government, it became necessary for me to have an interview with the Grand Duke. The Russo-Turkish war was over; the city of the Sultan lay weakened and humiliated at the feet of her great Northern conqueror, and the streets of Pera, the Christian quarter of the city, were gay with the uniforms of Russian officers, who enlivened the Grand Rue with their presence and enriched the shopkeepers at the bazaar in Stamboul with Russian roubles in exchange for bric-àbrac, Turkish carpets, and Oriental embroideries. One hundred and twenty thousand Russian troops were encamped at San Stefano, a Turkish village an hour's distance by rail from Stamboul, and the English fleet of observation," despatched thither to prevent, if need be, the occu pation of the capital by the Russian army, lay at anchor in Bessika Bay, at, relatively, the same distance from Stamboul as were the Russian troops. In the Bosphorus, midway between the European and Asiatic shores, the Lavadia, a magnificent yacht floating the imperial flag of Russia, lay peacefully at her anchorage. On board of her was the Grand Duke Nicolas, then in command of the Russian army in Turkey.
Ascertaining that H. I. H. generally lunched on board his yacht at noon, I proceeded thither in a caïque, an hour later, bearing a letter of introduction to him from Prince Labanoff, the Russian Ambassador. As I stepped on deck I thought I had never seen a more elegant specimen of the yacht class of naval architecture and appointments than the Lavadia presented. Everything, of course, was spick and span, from topmast to water's edge, but the broad sweep of the main deck, the oiled and shining spars, the ivory-white panelling and the burnished brass mountings on cannon, capstan and railing, presented an ensemble which could not be well surpassed. The officer at the gangway stated that the lunch party were still at table, but that, the repast being over, he thought the Grand Duke would see me, and he took my letter and card to the cabin. Almost immediately he returned with a message from His Highness inviting me to join him at table. This I declined, with thanks, send
ing him word that, as my business was of a private character, I would be pleased to know when it would perfectly suit his convenience for me to call again. This was answered by the Grand Duke in person who, greeting me with extreme cordiality, renewed his invitation to go down with him below, saying that no one but his staff officers were present and that we could converse at our ease. As I was disinclined to do so, he said :-" All right; let us sit down here, then," namely on the raised edge of the poop deck, our feet resting on the deck below. "Here we shall be entirely uninterrupted," he continued, “and I've nothing to do for an hour to come. I am always glad to see one of your countrymen. Now, what can I do for you?" Then he ordered coffee and cigars and awaited my communication.
This all looked very encouraging, but I was by no means sure that he would be inclined to afford me the information 1 desired; first, because it related to the disposition of certain Turkish territory acquired by the Russians among the spoils of war, and which, not being fully determined upon, it might not be prudent to divulge; and, secondly, because the business I had in hand concerned English interests, and it was hardly presumable that, under the then strained relations between the two countries, Russia would care to show her hand until the political arrangements in view were fully matured. In this opinion, so far as the Grand Duke's revelations to myself were concerned,-I was altogether mistaken. With perfect frankness he answered my questions, fully and without reserve, simply making it a condition that until the arrangements were made public I would consider his communication as strictly confidential. When this matter was disposed of, I rose to leave, but at H. H.'s request, I remained for another half hour, the conversation drifting into matters concerning the late war and the present condition of political affairs. It would appear as if,-glad to be free for a few moments from the restraint of official routine, and the conventional intercourse imposed upon him by the foreign and uncongenial elements by which he was surrounded, he welcomed the opportunity of a free and unrestrained conversation with one who was entirely independent of political prejudices and inter
national questions such as then formed the chief topic of interest, in Constantinople, from the Sultan's palace to the booth of the humblest shopkeeper. He seemed annoyed that he was not receiving from the English colony at Pera that official attention which his position deserved, and especially at the cold shoulder turned to him by the British Ambassador.
Why does he not call upon me?" he asked, in an irritable tone. "Is Russia at war with England? Did we not enter upon this campaign only after every effort on the part of the Conference of the Powers failed to bring Turkey to accept a single proposition which would have averted it? It was perfectly well known that the folly and obstinacy of the Turks would result in war, and that not a single Power would come to her aid. We have conducted the war with the greatest moderation and prudence, being careful not to wound the susceptibilities of England. Are we here with sinister intentions, or as a victorious army making peace on honorable terms?''
I asked him why he did not enter Stamboul and make his terms there; he had the precedent of the Prussian occupation of Paris.
"Oh, we had precedent enough," he replied, "but it would have set all Europe in a blaze."
I asked the Grand Duke if it were true that but for the approach of the English fleet to Constantinople, the treaty of peace would have been made at Adrianople.
"Not at Adrianople, but near there, where the army halted. When the news reached us of the approach of the fleet, we met this menace on the part of a friendly Power by advancing the troops; and should have entered Stamboul, had not the fleet withdrawn, by arrangement, to its present position at Bessika Bay."* I referred to the prevalent notion that Russia is aiming at the possession of Constantinople. His Highness smiled, and asked:
"Are the United States aiming at the possession of Cuba?"
"Would they willingly allow any other Power to hold it?"
* This statement was confirmed by two Russian Ambassadors-Ignatieff and Labanoffand by General Skobeleff, whom I separately questioned on the subject.
Very well; that is precisely our position with respect to Constantinople. While things remain as they are save and excepting the closure of the Dardanelles to the passage of our naval vessels -a condition which no other nation similarly situated would endure, Russia is satisfied.
If Constantinople is destined, like an over-ripe pear, to fall into somebody's lap, both the geographical and physical conditions of Russia forbid that, in such an event, it should belong to any other Power. There is of course a party in Russia favorable to the acquisition of Constantinople, as in your slavery days there was a party anxious for the possession of Cuba, but it is not an influential party. Constantinople could not become the southern capital of Russia without causing an immense depreciation of values in the north; a fact which the land and property owners there would view with the greatest alarm."
"How about the claims of Greece to her ancient domain ?" I ventured to ask. They are more sentimental than practical. Greece deserves, and will doubtless obtain in time, an extension of territory. We feel a good deal of sympathy with Greece, apart from the fact of the Greeks. being our co-religionists."
I turned the conversation to India.
"India? There is another popular fallacy, giving rise to the most absurd espionage on the part of England, and affording the opportunity from Members of Parliament down to newspaper scribblers, to indulge in speculations and in warnings as to the supposed aggressive movements of Russia in that direction. This causes a good deal of amusement to our people; but unfortunately it goes beyond this and excites retaliation-and so the breach widens. India! What do we want of that enormous empire of Hindoos and Mussulmans, and which would require a standing army of Kussians to keep them from revolt? No; our line of advance is in a different direction, and then only so far as our political interests demand it. The Russian Empire is large enough, and no English statesman, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, sincerely believes that Russian ambition seeks the acquisition of India.”
When I took my leave of the Grand Duke it was with the conviction that his
observations were honestly made, with no concealed purpose of their being repeated for political effect, and that they reflected the opinions of the governing classes in Russia. I have often conversed with leading Russians, introducing myself these topics, and have found similar views expressed in all quarters.
Sitting at breakfast one morning in the Club House at Pera, I noticed at another table Mr. MacGavan, the well-known American newspaper correspondent, who had accompanied the Russian army through the campaign, and had achieved a high reputation for personal valor as well as for remarkable ability as a graphic describer of events. His companion at table was a military officer in uniform, who, when I exchanged bows with MacGavan, turned toward him as if asking who I was. In a few moments both gentlemen rose, and, coming to my table, MacGavan presented me to General Skobeleff. He was a man I greatly desired to meet. The valor and splendid military renown of the hero of Plevna were in everybody's mouth, and he possessed a personal magnetism that won for him the friendship of friend and foe alike. A thorough soldier, his face informed one at the first glance that he was open as the day in his sentiments and democratic in his instincts. As to the men under his command, it would be difficult to say whether military respect or personal love for their commander proved the stronger motive for their admiration of him. A strict disciplinarian in camp, he had a friendly word or grasp of the hand for each and all of them. He did not talk to his men of personal bravery, but he set so conspicuous an example of it in his own fearless exposure to danger, that his officers were more nervously anxious for his safety than for their own.
A few days after, we met again by chance at the club house, and Skobeleff, being alone, insisted upon my breakfasting with him, and ordered two or three bottles of champagne. In vain I protested that at that early hour I never drank champagne, but he would have it, and drank it like water, without the slightest perceptible effect. This is a Russian habit, and in Skobeleff's case, I fear, led to excesses not altogether disconnected with his untimely death after his return to Russia. Like all his countrymen whom I have known, he talked with the utmost free
dom. On military and political affairs he gave his opinions without reserve, and censured certain high officials among his countrymen to an imprudent degree. But even his censorious remarks left the impression on my mind that he spoke from conviction and not from personal feeling. He pressed me to visit him in camp at San Stefano, and offered to send a mounted escort and horses to meet me on my arrival at the railway station.
This honor I declined; but I went down to see him in the course of the week, and was treated with great hospitality. I arrived in the afternoon, and just before nightfall he took me over the camp. The men were preparing their evening mea! around huge smoking cauldrons; others were lying about at ease on the turf or in the tents. At the General's approach they started to their feet and stood at "salute," motionless as statues. With a pleasant word to them, he passed on to show me the arrangements for the night. I expressed my surprise at the height of many of the men.
"Oh. these are nothing," he replied: come this way," and we advanced to a group of men sitting in a tent. These he called out by name-" Strogenoff," "Polinoff," and so on-to stand up; and a file of men stood before us, not one of whom was less than six feet two. The appearance of this vast camp of soldiers
off duty," lying, standing, sitting about in groups, some sleeping in the oddest attitudes, or stretched out on their backs, open-mouthed and snoring, in their warstained and weather-beaten uniforms, their sun-browned faces giving evidence of the toil and hardships of the campaign, was in some respects more impressive than when, a few days after this visit in the lurid light of the evening, I saw them in the blaze of noonday pass in review in all the perfection of thorough equipment and discipline.
The last communication I had with Skobeleff was a note in Paris, regretting that he could not dine with me as he had been suddenly summoned to St. Petersburg. On his arrival he was called to account for his "imprudent if not dangerous pro-Slavic speeches" at public assemblies. Skobeleff was of so frank and honest a nature; so utterly indifferent to public opinion, and imbued with so keen a sense of the claims of humanity in their widest significance, that he scorned the