Memoirs of a Revolutionist by Peter A. Kropotkin
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Overview: ST. Petersburg had changed greatly from what it was when I left it in 1862. ‘Oh yes, you knew the St. Petersburg of Chernyshévsky,’ the poet Máikoff remarked to me once. True, I knew the St. Petersburg of which Chernyshévsky was the favourite. But how shall I describe the city which I found on my return? Perhaps as the St. Petersburg of the cafés chantants, of the music halls, if the words ‘all St. Petersburg’ ought really to mean the upper circles of society, which took their keynote from the Court.
At the Court, and in its circles, liberal ideas were in sorely bad repute. All prominent men of the sixties, even such moderates as Count Nicholas Muravióff and Nicholas Milútin, were treated as suspects. Only Dmítri Milútin, the Minister of War, was kept by Alexander II. at his post, because the reform which he had to accomplish in the army required many years for its realization. All other active men of the reform period had been brushed aside.
I spoke once with a high dignitary of the Ministry for foreign affairs. He sharply criticized another high functionary, and I remarked in the latter’s defence, ‘Still there is this to be said for him, that he never accepted service under Nicholas I.’ ‘And now he is in service under the reign of Shuváloff and Trépoff!’ was the reply, which so correctly described the situation that I could say nothing more.
General Shuváloff, the chief of the State police, and General Trépoff, the chief of the St. Petersburg police, were indeed the real rulers of Russia. Alexander II. was their executive, their tool. And they ruled by fear. Trépoff had so frightened Alexander by the spectre of a revolution which was going to break out at St. Petersburg, that if the omnipotent chief of the police was a few minutes late in appearing with his daily report at the palace, the Emperor would ask, ‘Is everything quiet at St. Petersburg?’
Shortly after Alexander II. had given an ‘entire dismissal’ to Princess X. he conceived a warm friendship for General Fleury, the aide-de-camp of Napoleon III., that sinister man who was the soul of the coup d’état of December 2, 1852. They were continually seen together, and Fleury once informed the Parisians of the great honour which was bestowed upon him by the Russian Tsar. As the latter was riding along the Nevsky Perspective he saw Fleury, and asked him to mount into his carriage, an égoïste which had a seat only twelve inches wide, for a single person; and the French general recounted at length how the Tsar and he, holding fast to each other, had to leave half of their bodies hanging in the air on account of the narrowness of the seat. It is enough to name this friend, fresh from Compiègne, to suggest what the friendship meant.
Shuváloff took every advantage of the present state of mind of his master. He prepared one reactionary measure after another, and when Alexander showed reluctance to sign any of them Shuváloff would speak of the coming revolution and the fate of Louis XVI.
Genre: Non-Fiction > Biographies & Memoirs