Chapter 1

SEVEN YEARS had passed by. The storm-tossed, historic ocean of Europe was subsiding within its shores. It seemed to have grown calm; but the mysterious forces moving humanity (mysterious, because the laws controlling their action are unknown to us) were still at work.

Although the surface of the ocean of history seemed motionless, the movement of humanity was as uninterrupted as the flow of time. Various series of groups of men were joining together and separating; the causes were being prepared that would bring about the formation and the dissolution of empires and the migrations of peoples.

The ocean of history was not now, as before, tossed violently from one shore to the other; it was seething in its depths. Historical figures were not dashing abruptly from one side to the other; now they seemed to be rotating on the same spot. The historical figures, that had in the preceding years at the head of armies reflected the movement of the masses, commanding wars, and marches, and battles, now reflected that movement in political and diplomatic combinations, statutes, and treaties.

This tendency on the part of the figures of history, the historians call the reaction.

In describing the part played by these historical personages, the historians criticise them severely, supposing them to be the cause of what they call the reaction. All the celebrated persons of that period, from Alexander and Napoleon to Madame de Staël, Foty, Schelling, Fichte, Chateaubriand, and so on, receive the severest criticism at their hands, and are acquitted or condemned according as they worked for progress or for reaction.

In Russia, too, so they tell us, a reaction was taking place at that period, and the person chiefly to blame for that reaction was Alexander I.—the same Alexander who, by their own account, was chiefly responsible for the liberal movement at the beginning of his reign, and for the saving of Russia.

In modern Russian literature there is no one, from the schoolboy essay writer to the learned historian, who would not throw his stone at Alexander for the unprincipled acts of this later period of his reign.

‘‘He should have acted in such and such a way. On that occasion he acted well, and on that other he acted ill. He behaved splendidly in the beginning of his reign and during 1812; but he did ill in giving a constitution to Poland, in making the Holy Alliance, in letting Araktcheev have power, in encouraging Golitsin and mysticism; and later on, in encouraging Shishkov, and Foty. He acted wrongly in interfering with the army on active service; he acted wrongly in cashiering the Semyonovsky regiment, and so on.’’

One might cover ten pages in enumerating all the faults found in him by the historians on the assumption that they possess a knowledge of what is for the good of humanity.

What do these criticisms mean?

Do not the very actions for which the historians applaud Alexander I., such as the liberalism of the early part of his reign, the struggle with Napoleon, the firmness shown in 1812, and the campaign of 1813, proceed from those very sources—the circumstances of birth and breeding and life that made Alexander’s personality what it was—from which proceed also the acts for which he is censured by the historians, such as the Holy Alliance, the restoration of Poland, the reaction from 1820 onward?

What is the substance of the charge brought in these criticisms? It is a charge brought against an historical personage standing at the highest possible pinnacle of human power, as it were, in the focus where all the rays of history concentrated their blinding light upon him; a personage subjected to the strongest influences of intrigue, deceit, flattery, and self-deception, inseparable from power; a personage who felt himself at every moment of his life responsible for all that was being done in Europe; and a personage, not an invented character, but a live creature, like any other man, with his own personal idiosyncrasies, and passions and impulses towards goodness, beauty, and truth. And the charge brought against this personage is not that he was not virtuous (the historians have no reproach to make against him on this

  By PanEris using Melati.

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