These excerpts are from the 1925 book, The Speckled Domes - Episodes of an Englishman's Life in Russia, by Gerard Shelley. The book chronicles the author's incredible experiences in Russia prior to, and during the revolution. The book is out of copyright and can be downloaded from the Internet Archive here in ebook format, and is also available in reprints and used book sellers on the big online bookstores. Shelly was brought up Catholic and went on to become a Catholic archbishop. His observations of revolutionary Russia clearly reveal a spiritual awareness. Wikipedia has an informative article about him.
Shelley's reports of the true state of affairs in Russia before and during the revolution are refreshingly accurate, unlike the left-leaning academic interpretations which became mainstream during the 20th century. Following are some excerpts pertaining to his several interactions with Rasputin.
Rasputin has become a hero among conservative Russian Orthodox, particularly monarchists. He has not been canonized by the Russian church but many people believe him to be a saint and a martyr, and pray to him and venerate icons to him, some examples of which we present in this article.
(The author's first meeting with Rasputin)
As we stood admiring the artist’s achievements, including
a bust of Princess Gaisin’s beautiful daughter, we were
startled by a voice behind us saying “ Peace to the servants
of God ! ” It was a voice that once heard could never be
forgotten. Deep and melodious like the velvet tone of a
cathedral bell, it vibrated with gentle power and manly
pathos. The very sound was a poem, a lyric that needed
no words. It is true that every Russian deacon strives to
acquire a deep resounding voice, for Society used to pay a
higher price for a deacon with a deeper voice at the church
and home services which were so frequent before the Revo-
lution. Visitors to the leading Russian churches marvelled
at the organ-like tone of the bass voices of the choirs. But
in this case, the spoken word was as rich and sonorous as
that of a full-throated deacon intoning at a Moscow
In the frame of the door stood the tall, huge shape of a
man, clad in a peasant's garb. He advanced towards us
with calm, easy strides, full of natural grace. When he had
greeted his friends he looked at me. There was a leer on
the sculptor's face, for he detested the peasant, and at Prin-
cess Gaisin's house had spent more than an hour on hearty
abuse of him. For which his hostess had been indulgent,
owing to her suspicion that the artist was a Jew. Rasputin
wished to rid Russia of the Jews, whom he considered to be
the enemies of the Russian throne and religion, the plotters
The artist looked at me with scorn in his eyes.
“ Voulez vous server la main & ce cochon-lk ? " he asked,
knowing that Rasputin could not understand French, and
concluding that I shared his own contempt for the famous
“ With pleasure ! " I answered to his astonishment.
But before I could move, Rasputin seized my hand and
rested it on his breast in the middle of his silky, black beard.
" You are the Ally ? " he asked, exchanging glances with
At my reply, he smiled at me with his great eyes. They
seemed to emit soft, velvety rays, caressing one almost as
one feels the caress of a melodious voice. The power and
charm of such eyes, combined with that deep, fluted voice,
those massive shoulders and giant frame was obvious.
Rasputin was the superman of body and soul. What he
would have been if he had been an Intelligent, cannot be
imagined. Perhaps he would have lost the secret force
that made him what he was. Nature is deeper than
Meanwhile he held my hand against his beard and said
in a rythmic manner: “ Utrennaya rossa na nyejhnoy
travye raduga radosti, no vyechernaya vlaga slyozy soodby l "
(The morning dew on the tender grass is a rainbow of joy,
but the evening damp is the weeping of fate I )
I had been warned he was accustomed to make cryptic
remarks so I took this with the proper respect.
It was impossible to have any conversation with him at
that time, because the artist was weary of his presence and
too hostile to see any good in him. I was lucky enough,
however, to receive Rasputin’s invitation to visit him
whenever I pleased.
Princess Gaisin's daughter insisted on taking a snapshot
of the Staretz. For this purpose he stood before the sculp-
tured tomb, saying these prophetic words :
“ I stand by this tomb in order that I may bear witness
to the source of Russia’s greatness and the defender of the
holy Orthodox Church. I fight for the Tsar, the Faith and
Fatherland. While I am alive no harm shall ruin them, but
if I perish, so shall they ! ’’
I thought at the time that he was striving to ensure his
position at the Court and to warn off assassination. Since
the day he was stabbed by a fanatical woman, he had had
no peace of mind on that score.
By startling coincidence his words have proved all too true.
(Rasputin shows up at a party in Moscow given by a Moscow society heiress)
While a song was in progress the footman ushered in a
tall form. In the excitement and dim light no one noticed
him, but as he came across the room after the conclusion of
the song, I was startled to recognise Gregory Rasputin !
The surprise that fell on the revellers left them speechless
for a few moments. Then, as Marya Mlozov rose to greet
the Staretz with a look of triumph beaming in her eyes, a
burst of applause broke spontaneously from the onlookers.
The sensation was enormous. Young officers shouted
“ Bravo ! ” and " Urra ! " with that short clipping of the
“ a ” which makes the sound rather comical to British
In response to this show of enthusiasm, Rasputin bowed,
and said in his deep resounding voice :
" Zviozny vyecher Boja riza. Tikhim khorovodom plashoot
zvyozdy do zolotoy zari. Raby Bojhy, vyesyeleetyes ! ”
(‘ The starry evening is the chasuble of God. In a gentle
rondo, the stars dance till the golden dawn. Servants of
God, make merry ! ’)
The gipsy woman took this for a hint that she should
offer Rasputin the customary toast, and came forward with
a glass of champagne. Marya Mlozov, however, briskly
ordered her to retire.
A footman came in with a small table, which he placed
at one end of the room and covered with a white cloth.
Marya Mlozov's gold marriage ikon was brought and placed
on the table, together with some wax tapers.
A bearded priest and deacon, who had evidently arrived
with Rasputin, waddled in, and took up their stand before
the improvised altar. The priest was robed in a gorgeous
cape, while the deacon swung a fuming thurible. Together
they chanted some prayers and intoned the “ Lord have
mercy," with sepulchral rumblings. I believe the priest
was one of the Old Believers, for he intoned forty “ Lord
have mercy's ” and crossed himself forty times in succes-
sion. The officers performed the ceremony with proper
reverence, and congregated in a lump before the priest
while he read a chapter of the Gospel over their bowed
heads. When the ceremony was at an end, they filed past
the priest, and kissed the painted cross he held out to them.
A few minutes afterwards some of them told me they did
not believe in any faith.
“ Then why do you perform these actions ? ” I asked.
“ Tak pologaetsa ,” they replied. (It is the rule.)
The unexpected arrival of Rasputin filled them with
delight. One of them, a young fair-haired officer with
great powers of loquacity and a know-all manner, began
to detail all the horrible things that Rasputin would presently
accomplish. With cool cynicism they discussed the amount
of intoxicating liquor necessary to set Rasputin going.
Ghastly details of supposed incidents, which they could not
possibly have verified, were related with ardent enthusiasm,
interspersed with genial execrations. Mentally finding a
least common multiple of all the lurid assertions, I found
that nothing less than a gallon of vodka would overpower
Rasputin's gigantic frame.
Like true conspirators, they settled among themselves
by what means they were to induce him to consume the
necessary amount, should he have no desire for an orgy.
They were all to feign conversion and beg him to pledge
their new bom faith in champagne. Each one was to
demand a separate pledge.
To me their minds, so typical of the Russian Intelligentsia,
were a source of wonder. They knew quite well that the
sale of intoxicating drinks was forbidden by the Tsar, yet
here they were looking forward to an orgy of drinking, and
its shameful results, without the slightest scruple. It was
characteristic that they gave so much credit to the fabrica-
tions of malicious gossip, and expected to get their share of
fun from its victim. Like most Intelligents, they took so
morbid a pleasure in the weaknesses of human nature, that
they had no faith or will for the sterner qualities.
When the priest and deacon had gone, Marya Mlozov
invited Rasputin and the guests to the banqueting hall where over a hundred wax tapers were alight on the gilt
chandeliers at both ends of the table.
Here, while the gipsy band twanged the balalaikas and
sang in low, mysterious tones like a far-off hidden choir,
the revellers began to devour the dainties. It was a real
old Russian Pir-Goroy, a " mountain rout,” the table being
piled mountain high with food.
As for myself, I made half a dozen mortal enemies in
ten minutes. Dishes of caviare and sturgeon, smoked
herring and onion, all sorts of oily things, were brought to
me, and literally forced down my throat. When I could
stand it no longer, and protested against eating beyond
my digestive powers, the hostess and her friends raised a
terrible wail about my “ bad manners.”
Mary a Mlozov told me that when in Rome one must do
as Rome does. This, however, failed to make room in my
stomach for the great dish of oily caviare — it had such a
fishy taste — which she ordered me to consume.
Not wishing to be a killjoy or to upset them any further,
I answered with a look of appeal :
” And kiss the Pope's toe ? ” I knew this was a standing
horror to Russia.
Rasputin, who had come round to my side of the table,
heard this remark, and was delighted.
" There ! there ! ” he said, tapping me on the back. “ A
true son of the Catholic Church ! Christ is the Head of
the Catholic Church. The Pope of Rome is a heretic, a
Latin monster, giving his toe to be kissed I ”
This little outburst turned the tables for me. I was
allowed to be judge of my own appetite and eating capacities.
Latin heresy has its uses.
The Staretz, however, was the despair of the dare-devil
officers. He refused, absolutely, to take any wine or spirit,
saying that the Little Father had forbidden its sale, that
his faithful subjects should try to make Russia a sober
country. The officers imagined they would have to deal
with a simple-minded, ignorant, tame moujhik, but found
themselves confronted by a spirit superior to theirs in its
firm adhesion to principle. Nevertheless, they decided
Rasputin was “ off drink ” and playing the hypocrite.
I gathered from a young man who had been talking
ardently with Marya Mlozov, that she was endeavouring
to secure Rasputin as a sort of priest for her Temple of Art.
It was well known that she had visions and strange visitants,
one of whom had directed her to send her husband about
his business. She appeared to have estimated Rasputin
on the strength of the stories invented about him by the
perfervid imagination of the " emancipated ” class.
In this midst of the festive hubbub, a shriek rent the air.
The clatter of the busy tongues ceased abruptly. Looking
round, we discovered Marya Mlozov lying in the arms of
Rasputin. The eyes of the officers beamed with pleasure.
Rasputin lifted the helpless form in his strong arms and
went into the dimly-lighted hall, where he laid her on a
divan. With a jingling of spurs and laughter, the revellers
The great Staretz was as kind and gentle as a father to
his infant. His deep-toned voice took on subtle intonations
of pacifying power.
“ Lie still, little dove ! (golubchik) ” he murmured. “ Do
not be excited ! You need some cold water.”
This chaste beverage was not at hand, so Rasputin
requested a footman to bring some.
This was soon done. When Marya Mlozov recovered
from her flush of excitement, due, I suspected, to overeating,
she told every one to be seated.
Rasputin sat by her side in the place of honour. In the
midst of all the hectic proceedings he retained his cool
Marya Mlozov clapped her hands for silence.
" You all know what my great surprise was? she said.
“ We have the Mystic Master in our midst. It is the seal
of consecration on this Temple of Art and mysticism, which
I wish to make a centre of life. We shall now see the dance
of the mystic maidens I have trained."
She clapped her hands.
The gipsy band started a lithe, lulling tune, exquisitely
cadenced and softened ; the voices of the hidden singers
were mysterious and subdued, with that soft whispering of
the words from the top of the throat which Russian singers
love to affect.
When the Staretz refused to drink, Marya Mlozov entreated
him with wringing hands and tearful eyes. Her appeals
were in vain. He declared time was getting late, and he
did not wish to disturb the feast with his presence any
longer. The officers crowded round him and begged him
to stay, treating him with brotherly affection, which I
knew was mere acting. Russians can act any mood to
perfection, and pass themselves off for the gentlest and
kindest creatures on earth till they get what they want.
They will press their hands to their hearts, let their voices ring with " feeling/' soften the gaze with perfect loving-
kindness, and swear by heaven they are telling you the
truth, even crossing themselves, and giving their word of
honour with tenfold force. If you believe one word or
“ feeling ” you are doomed. Russians are born actors.
They boast that they are not hypocrites like Westerners.
The truth is they have nothing to be hypocritical about.
Virtue and honour are non-existent, except among
“ fanatics," while public opinion was never strong enough
to give virtue a leg to stand on. Moral strength was a
monster to be hated.
So it was with Rasputin. His refusal to taste the Thibetan
potion was finally attributed to hypocrisy. The sham was
immediately shown up by the irate officers' rabid imagina-
tions. The gentle words of brotherly persuasion gave place
to fearful epithets. Some of them were already flushed
with unwholesome, hectic hues. I realised that disaster,
possibly a Skan-dall with all its riot of noise and violence,
was inevitable. The atmosphere was heavily charged with
the elements of those fierce social storms, so beloved of the
Russians, with blows, foul language, smash-up and horrors,
to be followed by heart-softenings, tears, repentance,
vowings, embracings, pardonings, and universal forgiveness
and brotherhood — in preparation for the next.
I slipped out with Rasputin, through the domestics who
stood about the open door.
Outside in the cool night air, Rasputin allowed me to
walk with him. He was desolate and aggrieved.
" What is the matter ? " I asked. “ Have you not enjoyed
the evening ? ”
" Mister ! ” he replied, squeezing my arm in his powerful
grip. " Groostno ! It is sad! I am sad for Russia. Faith
and piety have forsaken the soul. It howls like a wolf
at the gate of a pest-stricken village, frightening honest
folk. Russia perishes! PoggibuyUl Poggibuyit / ” (It
I asked him how be had come to Maiya Mlozov's house.
“ She has visions/' he replied. “ She came to me in
Petrograd and begged me to explain them for her. She
wished me to be present at the farewell party at her lazaret.
The soldiers were returning to the front to fight for Faith,
Tsar and Fatherland. ‘ In the name of God, do me this
favour/ she said. ' You will have friends among the officers
when they return to the front ! ' Well, I come, like a thief
in the night I come. And I see ”
He held out his large white hands, as though powerless
to express his feelings. The moonlight revealed the sadness
of his eyes.
“ I see ' A Banquet during the Plague.' "
This was an opera which Rasputin delighted to witness.
It was evident Marya Mlozov had lured Rasputin to her
house under specious pretences. I discovered later that
her example was followed by numerous other people, and it
was under pretext of strengthening his cause for the regenera-
tion of Russia, that his murderers lured him to Prince
Yusoopov's house, and foully assassinated him.
We chatted on Russia and the War for a while. He had
firm ideas on this subject. I suspected they were not
entirely his own, for it seemed impossible that a man of
his antecedents could have such a grasp of political matters.
I gathered he wished for the triumph of Russia above all
things, the occupation of Constantinople by the Little
Father, and the restoration of the cross to Saint Sophia.
In Russia he wished to have a Peasant Tsar, one who would
defend the interests of the Orthodox peasantry against the
Atheistic, riotous-living landlords and bourgeois, who spent
most of their life abroad or bullying their peasants.
He did not wish Germany to be absolutely defeated for
fear the monarchy should be overthrown.
In the summer of 1918, Marya Mlozov, whose extravagances had long agitated
Moscow society, went off her head, declaring she was are-incarnation of the Holy
Virgin, and about to give birth to a new saviour of the world, who would deliver
the people from their woes. The Bolshevists had her shut up in an asylum.
" The Kaiser is the Lord's Anointed for the Germans,"
he said naively. " We must not upset the Lord's Anointed,
for all power is from God."
I promised to call and see him in Petrograd. As we
parted, the beautiful chimes of the Kremlin bells rang out in
the still night air. Rasputin's stalwart figure passed across
the deserted Red Square into the shadow of the motley
domes of St. Basil’s cathedral, looking like a grim, squatting
hydra in the pale moonlight. Before the ikon of the Saviour
over the Spassky Gates, the sacred red light flickered and
glowed. A squad of soldiers, crossing Moscow on their way
to the front, passed across the chill cobbles like grim,
voiceless ghouls, leaving a pungent odour of leather and
stale clothing in their wake. As they descended the hill,
they suddenly broke into song, a jaunty, rythmic tune,
full of strong accents, now bursting with volume, now sinking
to a gentle hum. They crossed the river with a swinging
shout of exultant defiance. Russia seemed safe, the Kremlin
rich and calm in its ancient dreams.
CHAPTER V - THE EMPRESS AND RASPUTIN
(The author meets the Empress at Rasputin's apartment)
On my return to Petrograd, I soon heard lurid accounts of
Rasputin's visit to the house of Marya Mlozov. There had
been a terrible orgy. ... I felt happy to be able to relate
what had really occurred during the time the Staretz was
present, but the thirsty souls of the scandalmongers, and the
crafty minds of the political workers, refused to face the
facts. It appeared to be true that Marya Mlozov's party
soon degenerated into the customary Russian kootyosh ,
but neither I nor Rasputin was present. A kootyosh is a
regular Russian riot of gastronomic, bibular, and Bac-
chanalian delights. The gross bourgeois society of Moscow
vied with the “ fine " aristocratic society of Petrograd in
these savage rites. Grand Dukes were not above driving
out to those mysterious villas on the “ Islands 99 across the
Kamenny Bridge, and lending an Imperial hand in letting
hell loose. The Moscow bourgeois followed the grand ducal
lead, and were whisked in fast-flying sledges over the
glistening snow to the mysterious villas beyond Petrovsky
To such people, the asceticism taught by Rasputin was
a mortal offence. It must be remembered that although
Russia abounds in princes and counts, they are in no way
connected with the ancient traditions of Western chivalry.
Their ideal is to wear fine raiments, eat fine food, enjoy
sensual delights and parade at fashionable watering places.
The idea of a lady or gentleman is completely absent in Russia. Its lurid substitutes the grande dame and the
grand seigneur are all too conspicuous. I once heard a
French lady in Petrograd complain that the Russian aristo-
cracy was similar to the French bourgeoisie. In fact, I
think it was worse. It had mentally, and with regard to
manners, all the characteristics of Ethel M. Dell's men and
women, without their virtues, in an Oriental setting.
There was a lavish wealth of hand-kissing and bowing,
a glitter of surface manners, which never survived the show,
A Russian family will act the kindest of hosts, the politest
of manners, and when the ill-liked visitor has gone, huge
father, pretty mother, and all the little counts and countesses
will join hands and romp round the tables, skip upstairs and
down, in a feverish whirl of rejoicing for the visitor's depar-
ture. I have witnessed this performance time after time.
I have also heard the assertion that the British are
I realised that the fearful things attributed to Rasputin
were, in many cases, the actual doings of his accusers. Per-
haps no man in history has been so furiously calumniated.
This hatred of the Russian " aristocracy " and intelligentsia
for the devout peasant, did not even spare the Empress and
her daughters. Atrocious stories passed up and down
Russia. I hardly found more than a dozen Russians, who
had decency enough, not to say loyalty, to refuse credence
to or actively discredit these evil inventions. Some of
them actually thought they were doing a service to the
Tsar by making a scapegoat of his “ German " wife. They
thought the Tsar would be safe if popular malice was turned
against the Empress, to whom all the evils of the country
were ruthlessly attributed.
The publication of Artzibashov's “ Sania " knocked the
last prop from beneath a very superficial structure of con-
vention. Depravity became a token of civilisation,"
free from the “ prejudices ” of the dark ages. Truly
religious minds, such as those of Rasputin and many of the
so-called “ Black Hundred/' looked at this overwhelming
wave of corruption with horror and alarm.
Small wonder that the Empress and her followers looked
for the salvation of Russia to the closer union of the throne
with the peasantry, to whom the old traditions of Orthodoxy,
religion and morality were still living realities. The intel-
ligentsia had gone astray into the putrid wilderness of
materialism, looking only for the establishment of a society
of mere comfortable conditions, idealising sensual orgies
as the Paradise of the system. Just as virtue and sacrifice
were the goal of the religious system, so the orgy and a
merry life, were the natural ideal and point of gravitation of
the Russian materialist mind. Apart from a few acid,
faith-fired idealists of revolution, the general result of the
eclipse of religious idealism was a hideous nightmare of gross
sensuality. Every restraint was flung away as a
" prejudice." Just as Lenin scorned truth and honesty as
“ capitalistic prejudices," so the intelligentsia despised
virtue as a “ prejudice of religious mythology."
The average Russian intelligent has an incurable love for
dismissing whole centuries of human experience with a
pontifical wave of the hand as “ prejudice." He does not
care to penetrate their mystery. " Science " has explained
everything for him. Perhaps no country in the world had
so many mental parrots as Russia. Religion is a “ peasant
prejudice." Yet it is curious that the Russian intelligent,
having no desire to explore the higher forms of religious
consciousness, goes down into the depths of materialism to
explore the horrors of hell. Perhaps that is due to his
nature. He gravitates towards the appeals of his lower
nature, and shuns everything that demands a lasting effort
and perseverance. Cardinal virtues he abhors.
In this atmosphere, Rasputin tried to work for the old
ideals. In order to have an intimate talk with him, I called
one day at his flat, after having much difficulty in making
an appointment over the telephone. His servants had grown suspicious of all except known visitors. Besides
a host of people, ready to commit the noble deed of assassina-
tion for the glory of a political cause, there were hordes of
sycophants, anxious to secure appointments for themselves
or their prot^g^s ; depraved " converts* lured by horrible
stories, and mistaking Rasputin's movement for a sort of
sect after the “ Scoptsi " style ; ribald intelligents of the
type of Dostoyevski's Karamasiev, anxious to scoff and
condemn ; and social climbers, feigning an attachment to
religion and Rasputin, in order to get an entry into the
Empress's most select coterie. Even Church dignitaries
would stoop to the pretence of friendship in order to secure
In spite of the difficulties, I managed to receive the
message that the Staretz would be glad to see me at a tea
party he was having that afternoon.
“ To-day is a special meeting," the man-servant told me.
“ Only very special visitors are being received. High-
placed persons are expected."
With this remark ringing in my ears, I considered myself
particularly fortunate. I took an izvozshchik and visited
St. Isaac's Cathedral in order to while away the time. The
wonderful building was filled with mellow sunshine, setting
the golden ikons and mosaics aglow. A crowd of pious
worshippers stood before one of the ikons, where a priest,
in a pink cope, was holding a droning service. His deep,
guttural voice filled the lofty vaults and dome with weird
echoes. The litany he was intoning must have been a
weary one, for occasionally he took a small comb from his
cassock pocket and passed it deftly through his flowing,
well-greased locks towards the nape, drawling most placidly
“ Gospodi molimsa ! " (Let us pray the Lord !)
It was not the first time I had witnessed this unconven-
tional act in church. In churches with a mechanical liturgy
in a dead or obsolete language, the droning priests often
lapse into similar irreverences out of tedium. I once saw a
deacon come out of the sanctuary of a Moscow church with
a tea-kettle, pass through the prayer-mumbling peasants
and fill up the tea-glass of the verger, selling candles at a
desk near the entrance. It all seemed so natural that no
one noticed any irreverence.
In St. Isaac's an attempt had been made to lift the Eastern
Church out of the rut of peasant, rustic worship. The
building was Western, but the inevitable Russian spirit
still gravitated towards lethargy, and a thinly veneered
nihilism. The Mongol never dies in Russia.
Rasputin's flat was in the neighbourhood. About four
o'clock I drove there, finding a few smart carriages waiting
outside. I was surprised to see the fat coachman of Countess
Klinmel, a notorious pro-German woman, whose sumptuous
house on the Serguievska was a hot-bed of German propa-
ganda. She was a great gambler and had a malicious wit,
delighting in saying the nastiest things in the fewest words
about all who crossed her path. This form of amusement
was very popular in Petrograd society, and passed for
witticism. She was said to have invented the notorious
“ Last drop of blood " story which the poor parrots of
Russia repeated to their heart's content. That was when
Mr. Lloyd George made a speech at the Guildhall, in which he
declared that “ Britain would fight to the last drop of blood."
The Russian pro-Germans immediately turned it into a
malicious joke. I never heard the last of it. It was still
going strong when the Revolution broke out. People
would say : “ Have you heard Lloyd George's speech ? The
British will fight to the last drop of blood . . . ( sotto voce)
of the Russian soldier I " Loyalty of spirit is a rare bird
Even now the same mentality prevails there, except that
the place of the “ poor exploited Russian soldier " is taken
by the “ poor exploited proletarian," and the putrescence
which was kept in check somehow by autocracy has now
assumed the role of king.
I found a few ladies in the reception room. Rasputin
was standing against the window, reading out of an old book.
I noticed that his hands were perfectly clean, and his nails
well cared for. The myth about his dirty finger-nails was
just part of the campaign of the Aristocracy against him ;
their own idea of their position was so exalted that they
almost believed they were bom under supernatural laws.
A peasant or a bourgeois was something vastly inferior, to
be told so on every possible occasion, and made to feel the
elevating superiority of the nobles' boot. This vulgar
arrogance of the Russian nobles had perhaps no equal in any
European country. Aristocracy being for the Russian no-
thing but a matter of caste and outward show, it was natural
Petrograd society should attach enormous importance
to manicure. Manual labour was held in the greatest horror.
Even during the war no Petrograd “ lady ” ever stooped to
do work that would soil her hands. So it was natural that
the horror of Rasputin the peasant could not be complete
without painting his finger-nails black.
The Staretz wore a peasant robe of fine silk. About his
waist was a curious girdle, which, I was told, he only wore
on very special occasions. It was made of different kinds
of human hair. Devoted ladies had insisted on weaving a
girdle of locks of hair sacrificed by pious women as a snub
to vanity. The dark, fair, golden and white locks showed
up all round the girdle. They were loosely spun and woven,
while pearls and rubies in gold repouss^ settings formed
panels at intervals. I suppose the devoted spirit which
induced these ardent souls to weave this girdle was akin to
that of pious ladies who embroider slippers for their curates.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the girdle was
the lock of the Empress, which was enclosed in a sort of
escutcheon, like a relic. The case was richly ornamented,
and formed a cover for the buckle. It was stated that
people were expected to kiss this " relic ” of the Empress on
greeting the Staretz, but no such ceremony ever occurred
in my presence, nor do I believe it existed outside the strange
imaginations of her enemies.
The Staretz did not interrupt his reading on account of
my entrance. He was reading the life of St. Seraphim, a
Russian saint whose cult was in great vogue. When he
came to a passage about a dream, he closed the book and
began to tell us of a vision he had recently received while
praying before the tomb of St. Alexander Nevski.
He had fallen into ecstasy and he seemed to be walking
along a narrow road across which dark figures flitted and
whirled, their huge wings suddenly flashing with silver and
red gleams. He was cold, hungry and footsore. As his
hopes of safety began to sink he caught the glint of golden
church-domes and, rushing forward, was overjoyed to see the
massive white walls of a monastery rise up before his eyes.
A white monastery on a green hillock. He had spent half
his life journeying as a pilgrim from the gate of one monastery
to another, up and down the tremendous plains of Holy
While he was climbing the hill a Russian bogatyr (a sort
of Russian Knight of the Round Table), all jingling with
“ an iron shirt,” rode through the gateway on a white horse.
The monastery bells were ringing, and the monks stood in
the doorway, with a gold cross uplifted in blessing. In
their midst stood the Little Father, clad in his coronation
robes, and holding a tabernacle shaped like the church of
St. Sophia at Tsargrad (Constantinople). The pilgrims and
worshippers were singing " Kol slaven ” (How glorious is the
Lord), the brotherhood hymn of the Slavs. Suddenly a
band of Turks and Germans dashed up the hillside to slay
the bogatyr . After a great struggle the bogatyr con-
quered, and returned in triumph to the monastery. Here,
however, in the very hour of victory, a company of visitors,
kindly housed by the good monks in the pilgrims* hostel,
drugged the victory wine and tried to poison the Tsar and
his holy people. The plot was discovered by Rasputin himself. He was moved to give some wine to a couple of
dogs who had followed the bogatyr and were trampled on in
the fray. They no sooner tasted the wine than they fell
The Staretz related this vision with wonderful simplicity,
yet with such fine, deep intonations and imagery that he
seemed to me like a medieval figure from the pages of
Countess Klinmel immediately began to interpret the
vision. It meant that the Turks and Germans were not
the real foes of Russia, but that it was necessary to drive out
the foreign plotters — “ the English and French,” she
declared, ignoring my presence, or delighting to get a cheap
thrust home against the hated Allies.
“ Lloyd George is the man who will poison the victory
wine,” she proclaimed. “ Don’t believe promises. We shall
never get Constantinople. A box of Turkish delight is all
we shall get for all our ocean of Russian blood."
This Baltic-German lady always showed a remarkable
love for the poor Russian fighting man, and never ceased
defending him against “ exploitation " by the Allies. With
the Army Staffs, bureaucracy, and society overrun by
Baltic-Germans, the Tsar had a whole army of pro-German
agents to contend with at home.
Countess Klinmel did not stay long. Her purpose had
probably been fulfilled, and she left with one of the ladies.
The two remaining set about preparing tea. They went into
an outer room, and insisted on relieving the servant of the
task of heating the charcoal for the samovar and laying
Their willing service, reminiscent of Martha in the Gospel
story, gave me a chance to question Rasputin on several
As the protector of Orthodox interests, Russia could not
help being in conflict with those of the Roman Church,
especially in Poland and Galicia. The question of the
bishoprics of Lemberg, Kholm and Lyublin was a burning
one. English Romanists were using the weight of British
prestige and diplomacy to further the interests of the Roman
With a deprecating ring in his voice, he told me that the
Empress had been “ abused ’’ (rugalt) by the British Foreign
Office on account of Archbishop Szepticky of Lemberg, a
notorious anti-Russian, Ukrainian Austrian Pole, who had
been deported from Galicia by the Russian Army Staff on
account of his inflammatory political speeches. It appeared
that influential British Roman Catholics resented
The Empress was greatly annoyed at this interference in
Russian affairs, especially on behalf of a man who was
Russia’s avowed enemy and determined to raise difficulties
in the rear of the victorious Russian Army. She could not
understand why England should voice the claims of
the Roman Curia when the Catholic countries were
With regard to religion, Rasputin declared that science
was a failure, because it had finite means and ways and
could not deal " with the Endless Great and the Endless
Snjall. People thought of God too much like a scholar’s
sum. They were always looking for the tiniest atom or
the greatest world. They forgot that God was the Endless
Small as well as the Endless Great, and could not be
Apart from his saga-like eloquence and rich, poetic visions,
his stalwart physique and velvet toned “ breasty " voice,
he did not strike me as being more mystic than other
Startzy I had met. At times he struck me as being very
much like an Old Testament prophet. I think the secret
of his power lay in the sense of calm, gentle strength and
shining warmth of conviction. He considered the Russian
nation as God’s chosen people and the Tsar as God’s Anointed,
whose task was to restore the Cross to St. Sophia.
The samovar was brought in by Countess Rusov and
placed on the end of the dining table. The chairs were being
drawn up in readiness for the guests when the door bell rang.
Two veiled ladies entered. They were both modestly
attired in simple black dresses, a fur toque covering their
heads. The Staretz moved forward to greet them, saying
“ Greeting to Alexandra, the servant of God.”
Throwing off her dark veil, the tall lady stood revealed.
It was the Empress. I was astonished beyond words.
With her was the Grand Duchess Tatiana, tall, elegant and
beautiful in her simple black dress.
I could not help noticing the reverence the Empress
showed towards the Staretz. There was a look of religious
peace and happiness in her eyes as she returned the Staretz'
greeting and, lifting the gold cross he wore on a chain,
pressed her lips to it with tender piety. I felt dreadfully
embarrassed, and hardly knew what to do. My first thoughts
were of flight. I felt sure my presence must be irksome to
the Empress, who had probably come to the flat under the
impression that only the two ladies in waiting would be
The Empress, however, put me at ease immediately.
I had already had the honour of being presented to her
during her visit to Kharkov in the early days of the war,
when she visited the Red Cross Depot at the House of the
Nobility. Furthermore, she was aware of my association
with the Grand Duke Oleg, who was killed at the front.
Her Majesty had taken a personal interest in the projects
of her young relation.
" I feel sure you will appreciate the beauty of our friend's
character,” she said, taking the hard chair I drew up for
her convenience (there was no sign of luxury in the flat.
Nothing but bare, painted boards, hard deal chairs and a
simple table). “ It is so refreshing to me. If we are true
Christians we must love simplicity. Our friend takes one
back to the simple faith of the early Christians, when high
and low met together to hear the Word of God from a poor
fisherman. The Spirit breathes where it will."
I ventured to state the platitude that God was no respecter
“ If people would only bear that in mind ! " she exclaimed.
I could not help noticing the sad look that crossed her face,
as though she saw before her mind’s eye some disheartening
tragedy. Her skin was very red, the complexion begin-
ning to get streaky.
I was very much startled when, with blunt directness and
forceful emphasis, she declared :
“ Petrograd society is rotten 1 There is hardly a soul to be
The Staretz was busy talking to the Grand Duchess
Tatiana. I caught snatches of their conversation about
helping the soldiers with clothing and comforts.
Finding my views reasonable, and probably because of
my connection with the political and other projects of the
Grand Duke Oleg, the Empress told me some of her views
about the great problem she had at heart. After the 1905
Revolution she had come to realise that the security of the
Throne and Russia could only be assured by a closer knitting
together of Tsar and peasantry. The work of past em-
perors had been too Western, imposing a culture which
had merely led to nihilism and atheism. The nobles
and merchants were “ rotten." They had lost faith and
worshipped materialism. They were untrustworthy,
I was aware of a deep meaning when she said : “ Even
the highest and nearest are full of revolt and schemes."
Rasputin was to tell me afterwards that the Tsar lived in
daily dread of being the victim of a plot to dethrone him by
several of the more ambitious Grand Dukes. Russian history, no doubt, furnished him with plenty of cause for
anxiety. The world had been openly talking of the chances
of the Grand Duke Nicholas. He was the idol of the Army,
and was credited with a strong dislike of the Emperor's
pro-peasant policy. Rasputin actually attributed half the
propaganda against himself to him.
The Empress appeared to be very earnest in her desire
to secure for her son a firm place in the hearts of the people.
“ All my thoughts are for him,” she assured me. “ He
is to be the Autocrat of Russia and defender of the Orthodox
religion. He must be the leader of those who are faithful
to the Church and Throne. The middle class is rotten.
It is in love with revolution. That is all bad blood. It can
never be got out of the body. It is doomed to die. The
upper classes are rotten, too. There is hardly anyone who
can be relied on. If Russia is to be saved we must look to
the simple peasants.”
Her Majesty paid a compliment to the English language.
“ All my sweetest thoughts are in my mother’s tongue.
Nothing can equal the beautiful English books for children.
I always read to my son in English. He adores English
By this time tea was prepared. The Staretz begged the
Empress to sit at table next to the bright, hissing samovar.
Princess Olensky, one of the ladies in waiting, poured a few
drops of weak tea into a glass fixed in a silver holder. The
Empress took the glass and filled it with hot water from the
spout of the samovar. Rasputin passed to her a bowl of
mountain ash jam. Of this syrup the Empress took a
spoonful and plunged it into the pale tea. On a hardware
plate in the centre of the table was a small pile of rusks.
The Empress took one and dipped it in her tea before
I could not imagine anything more democratic and withal
so full of simple dignity and grace. The Empress seemed
infinitely happy, calm and restful in those plain, quiet surroundings. It occurred to me at the time that there was
indeed an atmosphere of the catacombs of early Christian
days. The Empress seemed to enjoy the same sense of
refreshment, joy and renewal that must have come to some
new convert of Imperial Rome seeking relief from the stress
of barren Court life among the homely secret assemblies of
the Christians beneath the floor of Rome. I thought, too,
of Marie Antoinette and her milkmaid's life at the Trianon,
though the Empress was stirred by a mystic passion to
serve God and Russia. In conversation with my neigh-
bour, Princess Olensky, I learnt that there was going to be a
little private conference between the Empress and Rasputin,
so I took this as a hint that my presence was awkward.
Needless to say, I soon found an excuse for leaving.
The Empress was so kind as to invite me to go to the
Hospital in Tsarskoe Selo, where I should have an oppor-
tunity of seeing her work for the wounded.
" The people must know that the Throne also has a heart
and can share their sufferings," was her last remark.
It was typical of that gentle soul. Yet all the reward
she received from the " aristocrats ” of Petrograd was a
constant stream of reviling.
“ That horrible German ! ” they would say. " She is
degrading Autocracy in the eyes of the people. Imagine
an Empress nursing wounded soldiers with her own hands ! "
This parrot cry was heard day after day.
Likewise her desire to reach the religious soul of the
Russian people was reviled and deluged by these pretentious
nobles with an orgy of calumnies. No doubt they felt they
were being passed by, and that their position as knout-
wielders to the populace was being undermined.
Living in the neighbourhood of Rasputin, I had ample
means for studying his views and observing his manners.
Very often I accepted an invitation to tea at his flat or at
the house of a fashionable lady who admired him.
Of all the wretched stories that were told about him, I
could believe none, for there was not the slightest evidence
in the man’s behaviour either at the Court or in the houses
of his admirers to justify any suspicion of evil-doing. One
has only to recall the base, disloyal, and abominably lurid
stories about the Empress and her beautiful daughters —
which the degenerate bureaucratic classes invented out of
sheer malice and rank imaginativeness, to realise how low
society had sunk.
In a land of bribe-takers, robbers of State funds, and
corrupt officials, Rasputin stood out like the giant figure
of a saint moulded in rugged iron. He, of all men in Russia,
was immaculate. Not even his worst enemies could accuse
him of taking bribes, although he was besieged by men and
women with glittering offerings in their hands. He lived
a poor and simple life. Such virtue was almost unknown
in Russia. Besides, Russians would never have admitted
it. They had no belief in any virtue, no will even to believe.
Rasputin’s life in the midst of a horde of howling, snarling
enemies was both dangerous and burdensome. The in-
furiated aristocrats longed to have him assassinated, while
a Grand Duke openly declared he would hang him if he
got the chance.
One day I met Rasputin in the park at Tsarskoe Selo.
He was hurrying along, looking rather gloomy and pre-
occupied. I called out to him. He turned and looked
anxiously in my direction. Recognising me, he seemed
relieved and came forward to meet me.
“ The sun is going down on the golden domes of Holy
Russia," he said dismally.
As the sun had not reached midday, I realised he was
parabolic as usual.
He explained to me that a plot had been set afoot by
some Grand Dukes to have him removed from the Court.
He repeated his assurance that the throne would be ruined
if he was sent away.
“ Already the Tsarevitch has sickened," he said. " I
fear lest he should get dangerously ill and die. The Empress
has shed many tears over her seraphim-pure child. Wicked
enemies are plotting to bring death upon him. The Grand
Duke Nicholas and the Grand Duke Michael are plotting
to remove the Tsar and his son and take the throne. The
Romanoffs ! They talk of keeping Russia for the Romanoffs.
They say the Tsar is too weak to rule Holy Russia. They
hate the Tsarina. They say the Tsarevitch is a sick child
and will never be fit to rule, and that he should not live to
marry and pass on his illness to coming Tsars."
He told me that the Tsar and Tsarina were very much
disturbed by the insulting behaviour of one of the Grand
Dukes. The Empress had done all she could to allay her
husband's fears. Nevertheless, they were certain a plot
was being formed to remove them from the throne. They
had received news that the Grand Dukes Nicholas and
Michael were in communication with certain influential
Constitutional Democrats, who were anxious to set up a
constitutional monarchy. The plotters considered the
reputation of the Grand Duke Nicholas with the army
sufficient to assure its adhesion. The Tsar and his wife
were being accused of planning a separate peace with Germany. This was also part of the campaign to turn
popular sentiment against them. They were to be deposed,
and the army and country rallied to a successful prosecu-
tion of the war under a Constitutional Monarch. The
Tsar had received information that the British and French
ambassadors were aware of the plot, and had assured the
schemers of their moral and financial support.
Some days later I saw Rasputin at the house of a princess
in Tsarskoe Selo. He seemed quite re-assured, and with-
drew after a chat with the visitors into a small room, where
he received people privately, and listened to their pleas for
help. When the audience was finished, he returned and
sat down with the rest of the guests at the tea-table.
In conversation with him, I gathered his mind was no
longer exercised by the danger of a plot. It had evidently
failed for the present. He told me, instead, about his wife
and children. He had a great love for them and wished to
bring them to Petrograd. One of his daughters was very
clever and wished to be educated. The Empress wished
to send her to the Smolny Institute for young ladies, but
the directress, a Princess Leven, was such a snob that she
refused to accede to the Empress's request.
Rasputin did not seem to mind. He took the refusal
“ These people will ruin Russia/' he said. “ They hate
the Russian peasant like cattle. They are not Russians.
They are Germans. They speak our tongue and cross
themselves in the orthodox manner, but their hearts are
Perhaps the trouble of Rasputin's life was the stupid
manner of certain neurotic women. They sang his praises
in a strident chorus, and thought no act of admiration too
trivial. At the Imperial chapel in Tsarskoe, I once saw
a lean hysterical princess reverently pick up a clod of dry
mud that had fallen from the Staretz's boot as he walked
in. She placed it in a scented silk handkerchief and kissed it like a relic. The legend of its powers grew among the
cooks and housemaids of the neighbourhood, and various
people claimed to have been restored to health through its
There was also a Roman Catholic Polish Countess who
took up the cult of the Staretz with all the traditional
exuberance and elegance of her race. She set up an altar
in her house, embroidering the frontal with her own hand.
Red lights in silver lamps lavishly adorned with scintillating
gems hung before a gilt shrine with painted carvings of
plump-cheeked cherubs and curling leaves.
Inside the shrine lay a dirty shirt and some rusty, blood-
stained iron bands which Rasputin was said to have worn
in the early days of his quest for miraculous sanctity. The
enthusiastic Countess loved to relate how she journeyed
to Rasputin’s native village in Siberia, and spent three days
begging his wife to part with the precious relics.
At first the fanatical woman kept a consecrated wafer
in the shrine. She got it from the local Roman Catholic
church, having gone to communion and taken the host
from her mouth with her handkerchief. To satisfy her
Rococo religiosity, she used to bake small wafers stamped
with a crude image of Rasputin. She would give them
to peasants and superstitious people, telling them they
would receive a great joy if they consumed a wafer with
prayer and fasting on nine consecutive days.
Her joy was unbounded when she discovered a suspended
Polish Roman Catholic priest, whom she paid generously
to celebrate Mass at the altar before her shrine.
Many of the doings attributed to her reminded one of
the Messes Noires of the French Abbes of the eighteenth
century. Of such things I had no personal knowledge,
while Rasputin seems to have been unaware even of the
extravagances I have just mentioned. The stories of the
occult attaching to him naturally attracted a good number
of weird individuals, with whom he had nothing in common.
On the whole, I found him a pleasant man to converse
with. Although a peasant, he had clear, well defined ideas
on a host of matters. No doubt they sprang more from
a deep intuition and instinct rather than from a reasoned,
scientific knowledge. There was so much of the Old Testa-
ment prophet in Rasputin that it may not be wrong to
compare him to one of those strange, rugged seers who
played so great a rfile at the courts of the kings of Israel.
He had a wealth of pleasant imagery, taken chiefly from
nature and rich lore of the Eastern church. It was at
least strange that this man should be able to impress the
Empress and a good number of highly educated people
with his personality. What his conduct was outside their
circle, it is impossible to judge, for the men who were ordered
to draw up a report to the Tsar contradicted their own
How, then, did Rasputin come to hold such a position in
the eyes of the Tsar and Tsarina ? The answer is quite
simple. He fitted in with their creed and plan for the
regeneration and salvation of Russia.
More than once I was privileged to talk with the Tsarina.
Princess Gaisin took me many times to the hospital in
Tsarskoe where the Empress delighted to perform the
simple and arduous tasks of a sister of charity. God alone
knows the amount of abuse that was heaped upon her poor
head for rendering these simple offices. The selfish, in-
triguing courtiers and aristocrats could not find words strong
enough to express their outraged feelings. How often I
heard pampered, overfed Counts and Princes relieve their
feelings on the subject.
“ Isn’t it wicked of that German Alice to betray the
Russian autocrat in this vulgar manner ? ” they would say.
" She doesn’t understand what the Russian peasant or worker is like. They have to look up to the throne as
something glorious and powerful, but the Tsarina is degrad-
ing it and dragging it down to their level. Just think !
She even dares to bind the wounds of the soldiers in the
hospital with her own hands! She is ruining the reputa-
tion of the throne!”
Of course I knew nothing was more horrible and degrading
in the eyes of the Petrograd Russian aristocracy than
manual work. Even during the worst days of the war,
when wounded soliders were pouring into Petrograd, few
women of the aristocracy were courageous enough to take
on the actual work of nursing. Most of them had private
hospitals where " middle class ” sisters did the work, while
they contented themselves with sewing gas masks and
garments, and carrying on the old gay life. Even the motor
car of the British Red Cross Mission was used by a Russian
Princess, and secured the reputation of being more in the
service of the revellers than of the wounded. When Russian
women of the upper classes saw photographs of English
noblewomen doing hard manual labour they were filled
Such an attitude was due to the extravagantly exalted
and pretentious views the Russian aristocracy held concern-
ing its own value and position. No wonder that some noble
souls among them are occasionally driven to adopt Revolu-
tion as a creed and disillusioned, surfeited souls like Tolstoy
to embrace the simple, despised life of the peasant !
With such intolerant and selfish views prevailing among
the upper classes, the creed and plan of the Sovereigns was
sure to meet with the most hostile and vindictive
Certain Grand Dukes, well aware of Russia's past history
and the opportunities of the present, lent their support to the
campaign against the Tsar and Tsarina. There was a
chance to ascend the throne if the Tsar was deposed. The
past century and a half had witnessed more than one instance. The revolutionary intelligentsia were glad of any
chance to undermine the throne. They lived entirely for
Revolution, if only as an idea.
By their opposition to the Tsar's new policy, the nobles
were digging their own grave. They little realised what
they were doing. At the time they imagined they were
bolstering up their position as the mainstay of the autocratic
regime, which had given them and assured their possession
of the land.
In the Tsar's rapproachement with the peasantry, they
descried a menace to their hold on the land. Moreover, by
identifying themselves personally with the peasants' re-
ligion, the Sovereigns appeared to be turning aside from the
materialism and spiritual nihilism of the nobles and
From my acquaintance with Prince Oleg, the Empress
knew I took a lively interest in Russian ethical and political
matters. Once at a little gathering in Tsarskoe, at which
the Staretz presided, the Tsarina unfolded to me her hopes
and fears for the future and safety of Russia. She told me
that since the revolution of 1905, she and her Imperial
husband had come to realise that the cause of all Russia's
misfortunes, lay in the apostasy of the educated classes from
the ideals of religion and morality. They were unfit to
lead the peasants who formed the overwhelming majority
of the nation. They were Voltairians, who were unconsciously
perverting the moral sense of the nation.
It was necessary that the peasants and workers should
know the throne stood for them as Russians, and not as an
armed power, to secure the dominations of landowners and
bureaucrats of foreign extraction, who despised the
With a peculiar tone of indignation which may have been
due to her German upbringing, the Empress told me how
difficult it had been for the Emperor to get the aristocracy
to accept his Pan-Russian policy. The Grand Dukes clung to the old Prussian tradition and resented any com-
promise with “ the Moscow spirit.” Most of all the Empress
was indignant with the Baltic barons, who were practically
supreme in Court circles and the offices of Government.
" They are Russian subjects,” the Empress declared.
" But you can hardly imagine how intensely they hate
everything that is really Russian. I, myself, am very proud
my dear mother was an English princess, but I have grown
to love my adopted country with all my heart. It is the
land my darling son will rule one day by God's will, and I
want him to be a ruler after the heart of the people.”
She related how the Emperor was determined to make
himself one with the Russian people. An incident, which
had given him great pain, took place at Riga just before the
outbreak of the War. He had gone there to unveil a monu-
ment to Peter the Great. In his speech he begged his
Baltic subjects not only to be actual subjects of Russia, but
to feel themselves to be Russians.
The same night the Baltic barons held a meeting in the
Hall of the Nobility, and Baron Manteufel declared that, for
the Tsar of Russia to ask them to feel themselves to be
Russians, was almost the same as asking a man, who had
spent a night in a stable, to feel himself to be a horse.
The Tsarina could not suppress her indignation. She
felt sure the Russians would never get better if they were
made constantly to feel how inferior they were, and never
given a chance to be guided in the right manner. She was
certain there was a wealth of goodness lying dormant and
neglected in the Russian religion, and also in the Russian
character. She spoke with admiration of the good work
which the Grand Duchess Elizabeth was carrying on at her
convent of mercy in Moscow.
" It is just such work that Russia needs,” she said.
“ With our knowledge of Western character and our prestige
we shall be able to infuse a new and freshening spirit into the
Russian church. The educated classes neglect these things for the material conquests of science. They are quite
wrong. Russia’s soul is sick to death. They forget the
West has kept pace spiritually, and in its religion, with the
advance of science. The Russian intelligentsia makes a
god of materialism and science, and despises the secrets of
religion. It is false ! Their science will only lead to the
shedding of oceans of blood, if they despise God.”
I could not help remarking how thoroughly convinced the
Empress was in the rightness of her mission, although I
sympathised with Baron Manteufel. To my mind the
Empress might have fared better if she had recognised the
realistic truth of his words.
It is curious to note that the Tsarina, who was accused of
being haughtily contemptuous of Russians at the time of
her marriage, owed much of her later woe to her sincere
desire to be Russian through and through. The same
voices accused her each time.
Rasputin entered her life because she wished to be one
with the religion of the peasants. She cared for the wounded
with her own hands, because she wished to share the suffer-
ings of her people in the War. With her husband she was
zealous in celebrating the historical triumphs of the Russian
nation, and strengthening it in its consciousness and belief
But on all these counts her efforts were met with an
ocean of calumny, hatred and abuse.
Why ? Partly because the cleavage between the political
groups was too vast and diametrically opposed. The nobles
stood for a system of autocracy, that should oppose all
progress at their expense and rule the land in the old tradi-
tional tyranny of Tsardom. “ The Russians are not fit
for freedom or a constitution. The Tsardom is the only
government fit for Russia.” Such was the usual plea of
The intelligentsia lived only for Revolution and Socialism.
In their childish, " scientific ” way of thinking, with no practical experience of political freedom, they expected to
transplant the most highly developed Western system to
the bleak steppes of Russia. The Tsardom must go at all
It was between these two wooden stools that the Empress
was doomed to fall. The more daring and ambitious of
the Grand Dukes saw their opportunity to gain the throne.
They, too, lent their aid to the campaign against the Tsarina.
The intelligentsia wanted the Revolution at all costs ;
the nobles wanted the throne to uphold its prestige, and
their position as batteners on the land. Nothing was too
bad or wicked to attribute to the Tsarina. All the evils
that afflicted Russia were laid at her door. The nobles
endeavoured to turn popular anger, due to their own corrup-
tion and mismanagement, against the Empress, in order
that the Tsar might not be affected. The defeats in the
War were attributed to her. The story was put about,
up and down the whole length of Russia, that the Tsarina
had a special wire from Tsarskoe to the Kaiser in Potsdam.
The whole thing was an utter impossibility, since even
the generals at the front couldn’t maintain their telegraphic
communications with one another, but millions believed
In a like manner the troubles of the country were attri-
buted to Rasputin. Perhaps none was more pleased with
the presence of the Staretz at Court than the Revolu-
tionaries. They revelled in the most hideous stories about
him, maliciously enjoying the political profit they derived
from them. Anything was lawful in order to bring about
the downfall of the throne, and bring about that glorious,
long sighed for illusion, the Revolution.
There was but a handful of loyal people in Russia. The
millions of peasants were voiceless, although the Empress
received many thousands of letters from those at least who
could write, thanking her for her personal care for the
When I heard the Empress use the phrase " Russia is
rotten/' I was somewhat startled, but it soon became
evident her words were literally true. The Grand Dukes
and the rich factory owners were intriguing for a " bloodless
Revolution/' The Empress knew of it and was full of
anxiety. The most constant phrase that came to her lips
was, “ Can we trust anybody ? "
The constant changes of ministers was largely due to this
fear. Were they working with the plotters ? The Emperor
especially feared the influence of the Grand Duke Nicholas,
who was very popular with the army, and was being
represented as a martyr to Rasputin and the Empress.
The army was said to adore him and to be willing to die
for him. The Grand Duke had resented his removal from
the position of Commander-in-Chief of the Russian army.
Realising his value as a political asset, some influential,
wealthy men of the Constitutional Democratic Party, asked
him whether it would not be possible to bring about a
bloodless revolution, by using his influence with the army.
I do not know what the Grand Duke thought of this.
The plot, however, seems to have grown and entered upon
more daring lines.
Rasputin was aware of the intrigue, but he mentioned
to me the names of the Grand Duke Michael, Goutchkoff,
several factory owners, and the Jewish banker, Rubenstein.
He did not trouble much about the matter. What pleased
him most was the fact that Prince Usoupoff, and several
other well known people, had promised him their support,
declaring that they realised the regeneration and safety of
Russia could only come through the renewal of its religious
I was surprised at this announcement, because I knew
a good deal about the mode of life of these princely indi-
viduals. Rasputin, however, seemed flattered, and thought
that he was at last beating down the fierce opposition,
which he had braved so powerfully at the risk of his life.
I last saw him in the beginning of December 1916. I
was leaving for England for a few weeks. When I took
leave of him he made me a strange request. He asked me to
bring back a lock of Queen Mary and her daughter's hair.
He wanted to add these royal locks to those of the Tsarina
and her daughters, in the girdle of woven hair he wore on
great festivals. He was dismally disappointed when I
told him it was beyond all hopes. He then asked me to
bring him back an ikon from the most famous monastery
in England. Thinking of a picture of St. Edward of
Westminster, I promised to do so.
When I returned in January 1917, the Staretz was no
more. His princely “ converts ” had lured him to his
death, and talk of Revolution was in the air.
I cannot help reflecting how futile the Russians were.
The nobles, who feared the Tsar's rapprochement with the
peasants, have had their land taken from them, while the
Revolutionary intelligentsia, whose dream of the downfall
of Tsardom was so glorious and stirring, have bitten the dust
under the blows of a bloodier knout, or are scattered over
the face of their loveless West.