Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

about the conduct of the czar to his wife | unexpectedly went to the spot where the on this occasion. Villebois says that he head and limbs of the unhappy man were heard from a French waiting-maid on the put up. He drove so close, that her two princesses, how the czar one evening, clothes touched the scaffold, and gazed at on returning from the citadel, unexpect her intently during the whole time they edly entered his daughters' apartments. were passing the spot; but she was firm "He looked," said the lady, "so fearful, enough to restrain her tears, and not disso threatening, so beside himself, that play the slightest emotion. every body was frightened on seeing him. come in. He was pale as death, and his eyes flashed and rolled. His face and his whole body were affected by a convulsive quivering." He walked up and down the room several times without saying a word to any one, and casting such terrible glances at his daughters, that the latter, startled and trembling, escaped into another room. The little French woman alone was unable to escape, and crept under the table, whence she saw him draw his saber at least twenty times, strike the table and walls with it, make frightful gestures, stamp his feet, throw on the ground his hat and every thing within his reach. As he went away he slammed the door so violently as to break it. We do not find that he performed similar scenes with Catharine. Lefort, the Saxon envoy, merely tells us, that on November 21st she interceded with her consort for Mons, and was ordered once for all not to bring the matter up again. Elsewhere we read that the czar became angry at Catharine's repeated appeals. He was standing with her at the time before a window of Venetian plate-glass, and he said, "Look at this glass; it is mean stuff; the fire has ennobled it, and now it is the ornament of my palace: but a blow from my hand can restore it to its original dust;" after which he smashed the window. Catharine answered with a sigh, "Was its destruction a deed worthy you? and has your palace become finer in consequence ?" On hearing this, the emperor embraced her, and went away, but on the same evening sent her the sentences passed on the two prisoners.

On the next day, the story goes on, Peter drove with Catharine close to the gallows on which monsieur's head was nailed up. Catharine looked at the ghastly sight without changing color, and merely said, "It is a sad thing that there should be so much corruption among the courtiers." Villebois tells the same story, but defers it, as is more probable, till ten or twelve days after the execution. The czar drove out in a sleigh with Catharine, and quite

The time that elapsed between this event and the death of the czar was scarce two months, and it is impossible to say with certainty whether Peter revolved any plans to prevent Catharine succeeding him. A story is told us, however, by the Austrian envoy, Bussy Rabutin, which deserves mention here. Prior to the Persian campaign, the czar fell in love with the youngest daughter of Prince Cantemir, and intended to marry her with the left hand. Further, if the child she would soon give birth to proved a boy, he intended to declare him his successor. As the princess, however, had a fausse couche at Astrachan, and the Persian campaign gave Catharine an opportunity to regain the czar's favor, the Cantemir remained for some time in the background. The affection sprang up again, when the princess came to Petersburg, after the death of her father, the Hospodar of Moldavia. Rabutin also says that the czar was greatly estranged from Catharine at this time, so that none of the nobles dared to speak to her; the common people, too, who regarded the czarina's good luck, and the czar's lasting affection for her, as produced by enchantment, firmly believed that her talisman, or compact with the fiend, was at an end, and that her downfall would soon take place. Other authorities confirm the latter statement, and tell us that the czar was very disturbed in mind about this time; still this is explicable on the supposition that he was thinking of the future of the empire he had created, which he must leave to women and children.

The death of Peter the Great must have been quite natural, or else the reporters would not have failed to lay it to the charge of Catharine. He had been suffering from a badly-cured disease, which he was supposed to have caught at Riga in 1721. In August, 1724, he was present at the consecration of a church at Zarskoie Selo, on which occasion three thousand bottles of wine were emptied; the czar taking such a large share that he was obliged to keep his bed for some time.

Hardly recovered, he went to Schlüssel- | my thirst: this alone refreshes me." To burg, and thence to Novgorod and the the questions asked him, the czar replied, furthest end of Lake Ilmen, to inspect "I believe, and hope." The last words he some salt-works. When at Lachta, on uttered were, "Lord, I believe; help thou October 27th, he saw an overloaded boat my unbelief." A few hours before his sink, and waded into the water to save the death, the archimandrite asked him to inlives of the crew. In the night he felt timate, by raising his hand, whether he feverish and a violent burning in his inside, wished to take the sacrament again; to and hence returned to Petersburg. Ere which he assented. He died at a quarter long, however, he was at his old tricks past five on the morning of February 8th, again on the 14th of January, N.S., he N.S. Bussy Rabutin states that the czar held a mock conclave for the election of a on his dying bed expressed great peni new pope, and drank so heavily that his tence for his sins, and confessed that he illness was rendered much worse. Shortly had shed much innocent blood in his lifeafterward the physicians began to feel time, and felt very grieved about the ocalarmed, for a surgical operation offered currences with his son; but also uttered but slight hopes of recovery. On the a hope that God would forgive his sins, 28th of January, N.S., the czar was in on account of the good he had done to great pain and felt very ill; but would his kingdom. not give up drinking, or keep his room. On the 30th, N.S., he had a relapse: his confessor did not leave him again, and Menschikoff was called to him during the night. On February 1st prayers were offered up for the czar in the palace-chapel, which Catharine and the grandees attended, dressed in black. On the 2d an altar was put up near his bedroom, and he received the holy sacrament. On February 6th an order was issued that, "for the salvation of the monarch," all persons imprisoned for five years should be at once released, and dangerous criminals, with the exception of those guilty of hightreason, and murderers, should be discharged at the end of five years' servitude. In the afternoon the patient grew worse, and the clergy prayed over him, and gave him extreme unction. His sufferings became frightful, and his yells of pain echoed through the palace. "See by me," he said to those around, "what a wretched creature a man is." On the 7th, at 2 A.M., he asked for pen and paper, but could only produce hieroglyphics, which were supposed to mean, Deliver every thing" When those around him wished to kiss his hand in farewell, the czar declined it, and said, "Afterward."* By the bed of the unconscious man knelt the Archbishops of Novgorod and Twer, and the Archimandrite of the Tschudow monastery, and the first was speaking of the Redeemer, when the czar, as if awaking from death, raised himself, and said in a faint voice, "This alone quenches

* It is the Russian fashion to kiss the hand of

the dead.

Catharine was not present at the czar's death, for she had left it in order to provide for the future. As we have said, there is no positive proof that Peter wished to deprive her of the succession, though he had never expressly granted it to her; but it is certain that a powerful party entertained the design. It does not appear that Catharine's low origin and former circumstances of life offended the pride of the Russians; nor do we find that the party opposed to her acted through any personal hostility, though she had no lack of enviers and scandalizers. But it was known that she was entirely governed by Menschikoff, and that gentleman had a great many enemies. It was equally certain that it was extremely doubtful whether she had the slightest claim to the throne; while that of the Grand Duke Peter, son of the unfortunate Czarowitz Alexei, was incontrovertible. This in itself would have had no great weight; but it was a good argument to use; and the Boyards calculated on the chances of a minority, as the young grand duke was only ten years of age. The Boyards wished the iron hand removed, which Peter the Great had laid upon their heads. At the same time they desired to establish an oligarchy after the fashion of their neighbors, the Poles and Swedes; and which was really produced a few years after, on the accession of the Empress Anne.

Bassewitz, who played an important part in the ensuing events, gives us the following account of the way in which Catharine I. was secured on the throne On the evening before Peter's death, Ja

na is mistress of the treasure, the citadel, the guards, and the synod; many magnates are on her side, and even in this assembly she has more friends than you suppose.

Tell those present to act accordingly, if they care for their lives." Jaguschinski at once told this to his father-in-law, the Grand Chancelor Prince Gholofkin, and the news rapidly spread through the room. When Bassewitz believed that the right moment had arrived, he looked out of the window, and at this appointed signal the two regiments of guards played the drums and surrounded the palace. When Repnin savagely asked who had given this order without his knowledge, Buturlin declared he had done. so by command of the empress, to whom every patriot owed obedience. At this moment Menschikoff stepped among the startled assembly, in which no one dared to speak, but surveyed the others with glances of suspicion. Ere long the empress also appeared, accompanied by the Duke of Holstein, and addressed the meeting in the following terms:

guschinski, who had heard of the agitation | found Bassewitz, who was now avoided among the Boyards, came to Bassewitz in by all, even by Jaguschinski; but he at despair, and said to him: "Provide at once went up to the latter and whispered: once for your safety, unless you wish to "Receive now the reward for the kindbe hung along with Menschikoff to-mor-ness you showed last night. The czarirow. The overthrow of the empress and her family is infallible, unless it is prevented this night." Bassewitz at once hurried to the czarina, and was ordered by her to consult with Menschikoff. The latter, who had sat up with the czar on the previous night, was fast asleep, and had no idea of the impending danger. The two at once agreed about the measures to be taken. Menschikoff ordered the chief officers of the guards and other important personages to come to the empress, and had the treasure conveyed to the citadel. Bassewitz reported to the czarina, and gained over General Buturlin. The gentlemen invited arrived, but the czarina was with her dying husband, and unable to leave him. Bassewitz, however, drew her away to the council-room with the following words: "Your majesty is of no use here, and there no decision can be arrived at without you. Your hero placed the crown on your head, not that you should pine away in tears, but that you might rule: bis soul only remains in his body, in order to take with it the certainty that you know how to prove yourself worthy of him when he can no longer support you." Catharine replied with noble impetuosity, "He, you, and the whole world shall see that I am!" and proceeded to the cabinet majestically, but with tears in her eyes. She spoke of the rights which her coronation gave her, and of the evils of a minority; but at the same time declared that she did not intend to exclude the Grand Duke Peter from the throne, but that it should be secured him after her death. At the same time promises of rewards and promotions for all present were not spared. After they had made these arrangements the majority left the palace, while Menschikoff and Bassewitz consulted for an hour in the czarina's presence about the measures to be taken. The remainder of the night was spent in informing the czarina's adherents of what was expected from them in the crisis.

The opposition magnates in the mean while assembled at the house of Prince Dimitri Golyzin, and so soon as they heard of the czar's death they hurried to the palace. In the antechamber they

"In spite of my grief I have come, my children, to dispel the just apprehensions which you must naturally entertain; and to inform you that, in obedience to the will of my ever-beloved consort, who shared his throne with me, I am willing to devote the rest of my life to the heavy cares of government. If the grand prince will listen to my instructions, I shall perhaps have in my sorrowful widowhood the consolation of forming for you an emperor who is worthy of the blood and name of the one you have just lost."

Menschikoff, who was now certain of his affair, replied as first senator and magnate, in the name of all, that a declaration of such significance for the tranquillity and welfare of the empire required due consideration; hence he requested the empress to allow them to hold a free and patriotic council, so that nothing done in this affair might deserve a reproach from the nation and from posterity. Catharine declared that she acted in the matter more with regard to the general welfare than for the sake of her own advantage; hence she left every thing that concerned herself to the enlightened judgment of

The

the council, and not only permitted them | chamber woman, Ganna, drank the rest, to consult together, but ordered them to found it unpleasantly tasted, and a few weigh every thing thoroughly: she would days after fell ill; upon which her hus behave in accordance with their sentence. band, an Italian, gave her an antidote, After a formal discussion, in which the but she never recovered her health.* Archbishop of Novgorod supported Cath- empress's mode of life, and the account arine warmly, Menschikoff carried the day of her illness, make her death appear by shouting, "Long live our excellent perfectly natural, and the result of the monarch, the Empress Catharine!" In former. The dipsomania prevalent at the an instant the whole assembly repeated court of Peter the Great raged equally the words; and no one wished to be last. during that of Catharine. The Saxon After which the whole party proceeded secretary of the embassy writes in August to the empress; and Menschikoff said: 1726: "When Prince Menschikoff visits "We recognize thee as our most gra- the czarina in the morning, and goes to cious empress and mistress, and devote her bedside, he asks, What shall we to thee our property and our lives."* drink? Would your majesty like a nip Catharine answered that she only wished of spirits?' When a good dose has been to be the mother of the country. All swallowed, they go on till late night drinkkissed her hand, and she then showed ing wine and prostoi (common spirits) to herself at the window to the guards, whom such an extent, that they are rarely sober, their officers encouraged to cheer, while but always muzzy and stupid." This was Menschikoff threw money out to them. the real poison that Menschikoff gave Catharine. In addition to brandy, she was greatly given to powerful Hungarian wine. Her mode of living, too, was ir regular; and she was fond of walking about in the moonlight all night during the spring and autumn. As early as March, 1726, she suffered from swollen feet, and the swelling gradually ascended till she died on May 17th, 1727, of an abscess in the breast, combined with dropsy. She is said to have expired in full possession of her senses, and to have risen and received the sacrament just before her death. By her will she left the empire to Peter, the son of the murdered czarowitz; and large portions to her two daughters. There was no opposition: the Grand Prince Peter was proclaimed as the Czar Peter II. amid the thunder of the cannon; and homage was done him. But Menschikoff remained the real ruler, as he had been during the reign of Catharine I.

Catharine was too sensible a woman to punish the opposition to her accession, and nearly the only person who suffered was a man to whom she so greatly owed the throne-the Archbishop of Novgorod. He appears to have been an ambitious but narrow-minded prelate, who chiefly supported the czarina because he wished to be made primate; when this was refused him, he expressed his dissatisfaction with the new government rather too openly. The result was that he was banished for life to a remote monastery on the Dwina. Catharine's reign, up to her death in July, 1726, was tolerably uneventful. As usual, her decease was ascribed to poison, although there was no proof of this; and people could not even agree as to the real culprit. According to some, poison was given her at a banquet in a glass of strong liquor: according to others, Devier, Menschikoff's opponent, handed her a poisoned pear. Villebois makes her die of a dose of medicine, which Menschikoff gave her in her last illness. Her bed

* We wonder whether Catharine and Menschikoff thought of their first meeting and former connection.

L. W.

The medicine might have been unpoisoned and yet disagree with the Ganna, and the antidote only make her worse. Besides, Menschikoff had not the slightest motive to hasten the czarina's death during her last illness.

[ocr errors]

38

From the London Quarterly.

THACKERAY

AND

MODERN

FICTION.*

DURING the short time that has elapsed ances of men whose names are well known since we were startled by the loss our-Dickens's graceful memorial of his literature had sustained, in the very sud- friend, full of a true feeling which gave it den death of the greatest humorist of the its best charm-Henry Kingsley's charage, affection has paid numerous tributes acteristic chapter of personal reminiscen- Professor Masson's more careful to his memory, and criticism has made cesmany efforts, for the most part in a gen- criticisms, which, however, are but sketcherous and appreciative spirit, to determine es hardly worthy of the reviewer's fame his true position. The Times, indeed, -Anthony Trollope's loving and tender perhaps too mindful of ancient feuds, and epitaph. If we may deem that the eulogy the terrible satire of the "Essay on Thun- has in some cases been excessive, and that der and Small Beer," and possibly not dis- higher merit has been claimed for his posed to regard too favorably the unspar work than that to which it is fairly ening critic of that "Snob" family, of the titled; if, especially, we can not altogether tendencies and faults of one whose great sympathize in the complaint embodied in divisions it is itself only too faithful a rep- some verses headed "1701 and 1863" in resentative, dismissed the great author the Cornhill, we can certainly understand in little more space than it would have the source from which what we deem an taken to enumerate the titles of the "Mar- error springs, and can heartily respect the quis of Steyne," or to recite the distin- feeling by which it has been prompted. A guished services rendered to the country man of brilliant talents, high principles, by some departed diplomatist who had and generous impulses, whose powers once figured at the illustrious court of were always employed on the side of vir'Plumpernickel." But, to the honor of tue and righteousness, who had what our press, this was the only instance of Tennyson describes as the true dower of any want of thorough cordiality in the the poet, "the hate of hate, the scorn of honor paid to the dead; and even here scorn, the love of love," who has done we have to complain only of the want of great service as the keen but kindly satirthat fullness which the occasion demand- ist of the age in exposing its foibles, reed, not of the expression of any unkindly buking its vices, and correcting some of feeling or depreciating estimate. Else- its follies, has passed away from our where every jealousy seemed to be buried midst. It is right that we should render in that grave, round which so many of our due honor to his worth; and if, in the deintellectual magnates had gathered in un-sire to do this worthily, there should somefeigned grief; and the only rivalry has been as to who should do most honor to one not more admired for his matchless genius, than loved for his noble, unselfish heart. Many of the daily and weekly journals discussed his merits in a style as creditable to the writers as to their subject. With the monthlies of February came the brief but characteristic utter

* Vanity Fair. By W. M. THACKERAY.
Pendennis. By W. M. THACKERAY.
The Newcomes. By W. M. THACKERAY.
Esmond By W. M. THACKERAY.
Aurora Floyd. By M. E BRADDON.
East Lynne. By MRS. H. WOOD.

times have been an exaggerated conception of his merit, we can pardon it far more easily than a carping criticism which should fail to deal justly with one who was always so lenient in his judgments of others.

Besides the fugitive articles of newspapers and magazines, we have already had a volume on Thackeray the Humorist, and Man of Letters, which merits passing notice as an egregious example of a book-making which is discreditable to the literary craft. It is simply an unworthy attempt on the part of those engaged in it to make capital out of the

« AnteriorContinuar »