THE man who in Europe occupies the most unique position is, perhaps, of all men in Europe, the one least under- stood. The Czar Alexander is the only European Sovereign
remaining whose will is really executive, who can give a capital sentence without reason assigned, commence a war out of caprice, or decree a new fundamental law because he thinks it wise. Englishmen have a vague idea that after the death of Nicholas the position of the Russian Czar was in
some way changed, that the autocracy had been tempered by some undescribed force, that Alexander II. was in some unknown way less of a despotic Monarch than his father had been. There is no reason whatever for that belief. Czar Alexander is a gentler and better-natured man than his father, less suspicious of innovation, and above all, less of a martinet, and consequently rules with a. much lighter hand ; but his constitutional position is in no way changed. He remains, like his father, the " Gossudar," the absolute and rightful Lord of all Russians, Head alike of the Church and the State, with no theoretical restraint upon his will and no practical check upon- his caprices except the danger of assassination— enormously diminished by emancipation—and of insurrection —greatly reduced by the construction of the Railways. If he chooses to order a General to Siberia, the General is, six hours afterwards, on his road as a chained convict. If he pleases to decree a war, the troops are instantly in motion to carry out his will. If he thinks it well to strip a class of its possessions, a supreme order makes the peasants under them the owners of the soil. The burden of lonely and irresponsible power, of will enfran- chised from all restraints, which maddened half the Caesars and has maddened one in three of all the Czars since Vladimir, presses as heavily on Alexander as on Nicholas ; and there is nothing save his character to prevent him, like Czar Paul, from " setting the world on fire," or like Czar Nicholas, from loading his people with intolerable restrictions. That character therefore is worth study, even by men who cannot realise to themselves what the Czar is, how utterly Russia is dependent on him for policy, guidance, and order, even in its internal or social affairs, and we are indebted to any one who dissipates ever so little the mist which conceals it from observation. An essayist in the British Quarterly has this week divided the clouds a little, and enabled us to see, at all events, a human being, whom it is pessible in some degree to understand. He is evidently familiar with the Russian Court, his account tallies well with all known facts, and his picture is, at all events, human and lifelike, not a mere collection of disconnected details.
According to the British Quarterly, then, the present ruler of Russia is a man of a type not unfamiliar to Englishmen, one of a class to which Sir R. Walpole, Lord North, and Lord Melbourne have belonged in our recent history, and to which Lord Granville, should he ever be Premier, may be found to belong,—by intellect statesmen, by temperament indolent bons vivants. Thoroughly good-natured in trifles, willing that everybody should be comfortable, so averse to detail as to
, dislike writing the most necessary papers, and sensitive to every enjoyment, be it only a good dinner, the Czar is still resolved at once to rule and to reform, and he has succeeded in doing - both. His cool, unswerving persistence has all the effect of energy, and most of the results of force. His modus operandi, when he has resolved on any considerable act, is to order a Committee, which he himself selects, to report upon the method of carrying out his will, and till they have reported, give himself no apparent concern about the affair, which,
nevertheless, he never overlooks. The committee, usually composed of an equal number of representatives of the new and the old re'ginte, sat for months and months until they arrived at the conclusions which suited him. They were locked up like a jury, until they agreed to recommend or formulate his own suggestion. If they quarrelled too much, he would simply send them an order to be quicker, or would fix a date by which the work was to be completed. He would listen just as patiently to all arguments of the old Nicholas party, as to those of the more liberal school of new statesmen ; but he would never give up the main point, not- withstanding all the fearful prospects of revolution which the retrogrades used to point out to him. When he really saw, as in the case of Poland, or of radical conspiracies, that some little danger was to be apprehended, he would for a short time assume an apparently more Nicholas-like attitude ; but in a few months the work was again resumed, and the reform carried out all the same. Having no Parliament, and being deprived of the services of openly-expressed public opinion, he managed to get nearly everything that institutions of that kind usually give to a sovereign, and perhaps even more, for nothing was lost or misrepresented by party struggles. He had, of course, nothing to invent, the ideas of all his reforms having been long since thoroughly elaborated in Europe. Consequently, taking a given principle of legislation, he had only to order its adaptation to the conditions of his country. There could be no discussion whether trial by jury was a good thing, or serfdom a bad institution. All that was wanted, since he had made up his mind in favour of a principle estab- lished abroad, was to Russify it, so to speak, and he could therefore quietly go on with his dinners, shootings, and travel- lings, when he had once appointed a commission in which the new and the old interests were pretty equally represented." It was in this way that, in the face of the most deadly opposi- tion—an opposition which might have become murderous, but for the well-understood watchfulness of the serfs, who, if the Czar had died, would have made a clean sweep of the nobles—. Alexander carried through the work of emancipation, the new conscription, the reform of the Courts, the municipal law, the abolition of the hereditary character of the priesthood, and the subjugation of Poland, the latter a task in which the Czar betrayed the sternness almost amounting to cruelty often found in these easy-going, indolent, pleasure-loving men. " Every inch of Alexander is a well-bred nobleman, very rich, very good-natured, affectionate to his children, fond of a good dinner, of shooting and hunting, and of making every one comfortable, as long as he is permitted the pleasure of feeling that he is doing it voluntarily." But the attempt to hamper his will, to compress it, to resist it, rouses at once the latent vigour and the latent fierceness, and the attempt is crushed down by any means at hand. He allowed all officers to smoke—a practice prohibited by his father like a crime—but he told the nobles of Poland, " No illusions, gentlemen "; he crushed out the last sparks of separate life in the German provinces, and he warned the nobles of Moscow that power was for him, not them, and that their addresses must be in an altered tone. The essayist con- tends, and we believe, that it is the same in foreign affairs, that the Czar, leaving all details to skilled agents, whom, be it noticed, he rarely changes, settles the general lines of policy upon some theory of his own, the keynote of which would seem to be that Russia needs time, that she must not for a period fight a continental war, or interfere gravely with Europe, or do anything externally except in preparing the way for ex- pansion in the future. This theory has been acted on ever since the Crimean war with a calm persistence which has never faltered, which was unaffected even by the German war, and which has kept Russia out of the groove of Conti- nental politics almost as completely as Great Britain. The policy pursued is that of the ideal aristocrat, calm, patient, hard, but slightly unenterprising—life being so enjoyable— rather than of the ideal despot intent on getting something done while he is alive, on seeing the results of his own labour, forethought, and self-sacrifice. It is a policy which might in
the long run become exceedingly formidable, but which pre- ' serves the world from apprehensions of coups de main, and by creating a habit of peacefulness may in the end make war more difficult and more formidable.
If this essayist's sketch is accurate, and as we have said, it corresponds with the known ers`cts, the weak points of the present Administration will be found to be these :—Men of this ''type are rarely, we think we may say never, good financiers. They vent their will executed before all things, and its execution is almost certain to cost money. If, like Czar Alexander, they are reformers, they order things without considering cost, or rather without taking that infinity of trouble which would provide the cost ; they estimate schemes by their results rather than by the efforts they involve, and are always more or less in pecuniary difficulty. It is nearly impossible to get at the exact truth about Russian finance, which is complicated by two influences, the use of paper-money on a scale which makes it possible in so vast an empire to issue secret loans bearing no interest, and the steady honesty of the Romanoffs, who pay foreign debts to the hour, and therefore can borrow almost at discretion, but we suspect this has been a terribly expensive reign. Improvement has gone on full-speed, emancipation in- volved very serious outlays—£60,000,000 at least—the changes in the Army have been costly, and the expenditure of the Imperial family has risen till it is a serious item in the press- ing demands upon the Treasury. Loans, often, we admit, for works of the highest utility, have been very frequent, and the guarantee system has been pressed very far, till, as in India, the apparent liability of the State is no trustworthy index to its real obligations. Again, the defect of men of this type is habitual indolence, an indolence of temperament as well as habit, which in absolute rulers involves neglect of necessary detail. Their internal vigour of character, which is very great, is only excited by resistance ; they fret under the monotonous and exhausting work required of a real ruler,—the actual labour, for instance, given by Frederic the Great, or Louis Quatorze in his better years, or the present Hohenzollern, who works like a Permanent Secretary,—and they avoid the daily or hourly work in manipulating details
essential to permanent efficiency. They will decree an accumulation of powder, but neglect to see to the counting of the barrels. Their great agents, Generals, Commissaries, Storekeepers, and what not, feel that they are un watched, they also leave disagreeable business to half-paid Subordinates, and corruption comes in like a flood. When the emergency arrives, it is found that half the superior officers have been selected for personal reasons, that the lower officials are all corrupt, and that nothing in the way of materiel corresponds to the written accounts. It was so under the Emperor Nicholas, it was so under the Emperor Napoleon, and it may be so under the Emperor Alexander, unless his subordinates are far more laborious than visitors to St. Petersburg believe them to be. The Czar's keensightedness, persistence, and self- control will not avail him against this evil, any more than they avail him against a waste of money which would drive the Hohenzollerns into a coup d'itat. Even Nicholas could not check this, and the man, " every inch a noble," who now occu- pies the throne will probably be startled to find, when the first great strain comes, that the ability of which he is conscious, and the success which he enjoys, and the popularity he has achieved, have not extirpated or ameliorated the mischiefs which crippled his father's army in the Crimea. No genius for seamanship is sufficient to keep out the teredo.